I learned it “by heart” in 8th grade Social Studies. I can recite it still. Every time I visit Washington, D.C. — and I visit often — I come to the Lincoln Memorial and read its words afresh.
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.
Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863 — 150 years ago today — at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg, the great turning point of the Civil War. The President was only the second speaker that day. He followed the then-famed orator Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours. Lincoln spoke for barely 2 minutes.
It is a wonderful speech, a perfect piece of communication. Read it again today. Say it aloud. Ponder its meaning. And then commit anew to living up to its aspirations. Lincoln’s only error was believing that the world would “little note, nor long remember what we say here.”
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