Address still carries meaning
The Civil War was far from over on Nov. 19, 1863, when the dedication ceremonies were held for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg.
Politicians and dignitaries had gathered in the small Pennsylvania town to remember the battle of July 1-3 of that year in which Union forces had defeated Confederate armies in what proved to be a major turning point in the war.
The dedication came more than a month after the reburial of Union soldiers from their battlefield graves had started on Oct. 17. The featured presentation was supposed to be made by Edward Everett, a prominent politician, pastor and educator who was known as one of the great orators of his era. After Everett finished his two-hour speech — long cemetery dedication speeches were common at the time — President Abraham Lincoln took to the stage.
Lincoln, who very likely was suffering from the early stages of smallpox at the time, talked for just two minutes, yet his words are considered to be one of the greatest speeches ever delivered. Today, we are proud to be able to reprint that famous address.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon 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 it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. 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 hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.
It is rather for us, the living, to stand here, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, 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.