In the third paragraph Lincoln's gift for the written language is matched only by his unique understanding of the war and its true meaning. It is the dead of the past July who honored the ground, not the living of November. Offering what was perhaps one of the greatest understatements in history, Lincoln follows it with perhaps one of the greatest truths: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Lincoln then urges the listeners, and indeed the whole country, to continue the war in spite of the appalling losses and human suffering: “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” It is only through the renewed commitment to the cause, with all of the horrors to come that it would entail, that America could truly heal. This was Lincoln's answer to the Copperheads, and it was a unique and valuable wisdom.
Lincoln's remarks lasted barely two minutes, and was met with near universal acclaim in the North. The next day Everett wrote to Lincoln: “Permit me ... to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity and appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address remains one of the most important and moving documents in our nation's history. It is certainly worth reproduction below. I urge you all to read the great president's words out loud and ponder his meaning as it would have been understood in the context of the time. In my American history classes I always read these words out loud in the hope that they will touch the hearts of a new generation, the way they have touched the hearts of so many Americans since they were first spoke nearly 150 years ago:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the popular History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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