On November 19, 1863 President Lincoln addressed a gathering at the site of the most devastating battle in American history to dedicate a Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Just four month prior, 51,000 troops were killed or injured during a three day fight between Union and Confederate forces in and around the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. Tactically, the Union victory checked the rebel offensive (aimed at defeating the Army of the Potomac and forcing the United States government to sue for peace). Strategically, Gettysburg laid bare the Confederate army’s inability to win a war of attrition, and served a crushing blow to the South’s aspirations of independence.
Lincoln spoke for about two minutes. The brevity of the speech stands in stark contrast to the impact and legacy of the words he chose.
As noted by historians, the Gettysburg Address “…is thought by many today to be the most eloquent articulation of the democratic vision ever written.” (history.com)
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.