Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
In November 1863 President Abraham Lincoln travelled to Gettysburg Pennsylvania yards behind the temporary to attend and say a few words at the dedication of the Soldiers Cemetery where the remains of the Union dead who had not been recovered by their families and taken home for burial were being interred by local laborers. When Lincoln arrived the process was barely halfway complete. The ground on West Cemetery Hill was still scarred by the battle that took place barely four and a half months prior, a battle that was the deadliest in United States military history in which the Army of the Potomac under the command of George Gordon Meade defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s storied Army of Northern Virginia.
Lincoln was not the primary speaker, that honor went to Edward Everett, former Secretary of State, Senator, and Representative from Massachusetts. Everett, an academic from Harvard was also a leader in the Greek Revival and the Rural Cemetery movement in the United States. Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery, less than 100 yards behind the temporary structure from which Everett and Lincoln would speak was a legacy of the movement that Everett had helped to begin. Now Everett was the primary orator at the dedication of of this cemetery dedicated to the Union dead, and Lincoln, the President there as more of window dressing.
Everett spoke for nearly two hours providing an impressive narrative of the battle. When he ended his speech, which was not long by the standards of his day it was left to Lincoln to say a few words. Those few words are now part of the lexicon of American secular scripture along with the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the United States Constitution, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech, andDr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
His words are the antithesis of what is so often heard in American political discourse today. The fact is that while many Americans give lip service to all of these speeches, we have to admit that there is a significant portion of our population that not only give lip service to their ideas but actually oppose them, instead valuing theocracy, racism, authoritarianism, and militarism more than the ideals that the United States was founded upon. Despite that, they remain something that we must strive to pursue until this nation actually experiences the new birth of Freedom that Lincoln ended up dying to see established.
Lincoln’s words which he penned over a number of days were not long, and while some like Everett himself thought that they eclipsed his own words, many politicians and members of the press thought little of them. However, those words probably encapsulate the ideas of the founders better than any words outside of the Declaration of Independence. I will leave you with those words. So until tomorrow,
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 battle-field 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 can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not 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.
November 19, 1863