Civil and Human Rights

Editorial: The message from Gettysburg

You may have missed it, but Monday marked the 149th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s moving and enduring address at Gettysburg.


The timing is precipitous.


The anniversary coincides with the new Steven Spielberg film about the 16th president now in theaters. And, as new members of Congress began their orientation (dare we hope, and not indoctrination) into government, the civil rights director for the Constitutional Accountability Center, a think tank, notes, it’s a good time to recall the mission of the Great Emancipator who lived and died struggling to hold the Union together.


David H. Gans writes of Abraham Lincoln’s push to pass the 16th Amendment outlawing slavery:


“At Gettysburg, 149 years ago, in the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln promised the nation ‘a new birth of freedom,’ and called on Americans to defend the Union and vindicate the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. In a speech that was instantly hailed as a ‘perfect gem,’ Lincoln looked backwards to the Founders, who ‘brought forth’ a ‘new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,’ and called for a ‘new birth of freedom’ to keep faith with our highest constitutional principles.”


He also sought to remind us of the “Reconstruction Amendments that wrote into the Constitution the new birth of freedom Lincoln had promised at Gettysburg.”


That, too, is timely, he notes, as the Supreme Court is set to consider cases regarding affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act and perhaps even the question of gay marriage. Before they do, he urged justices to see Mr. Spielberg’s film, “then reread his ‘perfect gem” of a speech. Come to think of it, we all should.”


We have not seen Mr. Spielberg’s movie, but Mr. Gans is right regarding the benefit of reviewing that famous speech. Though today’s political battlefield is ideological rather than physical, it is in its own way damaging to the nation.


A new commitment to political reconstruction is in order if our damaged system is to be fixed.


So, whatever your politics, in this 150th year after the end of the Civil War, for your consideration, here is the text of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as it appears on the Lincoln Monument in Washington, D.C.


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 battlefield 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 cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot 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.” 

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