Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"A few appropriate remarks...

...delivered after two hours of speechifying."

150 years ago, during the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, President Lincoln was invited to give a few remarks during the dedication. Coming on the heels of a two hour speech by Edward Everett, Lincoln's address was 10 sentences, 272 words, and lasted 2 minutes. Along with the thousands in attendance, Lincoln himself had no idea that his short oration would become one of the best known and most famous speeches of all time.

The reaction to Lincoln's speech were muted. Lincoln, after delivering his address, said, "It's a flat failure, and the people are disappointed." He could not have been more wrong. Even 150 years later, "The Gettysburg Address", as it has come to be called, became the focusing factor of the country in the Civil War. 

After more than two years of war, hundreds of thousands of casualties, and carnage previously unimaginable, the nation was growing weary. The people wanted peace, and the ultimate goal of the war was becoming cloudy. Lincoln changed all of that in two minutes on that November day in 1863. The focus was re-defined, the sacrifices were remembered, and the goal of total victory was restored.

The text of Lincoln's address is as follows:

"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 this 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."

Everett's response to Lincoln following the speech was one of praise for a job well done. Everett said, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."

In a country that currently is undergoing its own struggle of divisiveness and political uncertainty, it is important that all Americans of all faiths, all national origins, and all political ideologies take a few minutes and reflect on the words of the 16th President. To borrow the words of someone more famous than any of us, "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this."

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