Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
In his address, Lincoln put the battle – and indeed the entire war – into context, referring, in his first sentence, to the longevity of this experiment. Some of Lincoln’s greatest addresses refer to terrible battles in their fullest significance. He brought purpose and meaning to the destruction of human life, while at the same time, acknowledging harsh battles for what they were – a free government becoming reality. Lincoln’s emphasis on continuity and challenge are unmistakable present in his address, and by stressing the sacrifice and devotion of the soldiers, he probed the nerve of democracy and free government. His outlook on the results of the battle was not that of a great victory, but of opportunity, purchased by human life, for the living to continue to keep the experiment of free government alive.
November 19, 1863
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.