150 years ago today Abraham Lincoln attended the dedication ceremony for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, the final resting place for the more than 3,500 Union soldiers who had died during the ferocious three-day battle.
He was not the keynote speaker–that job was assigned to a well-known orator, Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours. After a hymn, Lincoln, as requested by David Wills, a local attorney who had developed the cemetery, gave “a few appropriate remarks.” The ten sentences, delivered by the President in just over two minutes, have become one of the most famous speeches in American history. (The Gettysburg Address, always deeply inspirational, also has a sad resonance in our own time of deep political division.)
The Gettysburg Address
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.