Memorial Day speech for ages given at Gettysburg

To honor the people who have died defending freedom and liberty of we the people, we bring you “a few appropriate remarks” from President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg:

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 beyond 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 that 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.

It is American Scripture in the meaning of Memorial Day, which was established 108 years in the future. In the first six words, Lincoln sets the biblical tone with Old Testament style of describing a time period of 87 years, with the rest of the sentence referencing New Testament baptismal words: “brought forth,” “conceived” and “dedicated.” “Dedicate” or “dedicated” is used six times.

The doctrine of the American experiment is summed up one score and five words into the first sentence with, “…all men are created equal.” It’s put before us as a “proposition,” a goal to perpetually pursue.

They are there, he says, to honor “those who here gave their lives that that nation might live,” which is what we do on Memorial Day.

In the third and final paragraph, the lawyer Lincoln presents the case to the people then, and to us now: Though we’ve come here to dedicate this place to the defenders of the doctrine, by their dedicated sacrifice, they have already hallowed and consecrated it. So what are we to do? What can we do?

We must continue to strive to fulfill the proposition in their place, with the “devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion,” with the resolve they did not die for something that eventually fails. We do that, he ends by declaring, by preserving a government of the people, by the people and for the people, with the emphasis on “the people.”

Lincoln’s “few appropriate remarks” amount to 268 words, several of which are used repeatedly. One word is used eight times. It is the word “here,” which is used mostly as a location, but it also means “in the present.” This is the miracle of the Gettysburg Address. It applies to Americans then, and it applies to us now — and forever.


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