Address Delivered at the Dedication
of the Cemetery at Gettysburg
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 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.
This amazing memorial to the casualties and survivors of the most grievous battle in American history is from beginning to end about a collective entity called the American nation, and its components, American people.
What was created in 1776, Lincoln says, was a new aggregation of free people joining together for the betterment of all.
Right here, right now, the President says, the collective nation is in mortal peril, shattered over “Liberty for All.”
Had the Union Army lost Gettysburg, had Lee been able to threaten Philadelphia, Baltimore or Washington, Lincoln might have had to sue for peace, might have had to accept secession, disunion. But, because its military losses would not be “in vain,” the whole nation, the notional America God saw from on high, could engender “a new birth of freedom,” this time really for all.
And the identifications crucial to democracy, of people with their government and with one another as citizens, would survive.
He should only see us now.
What would Lincoln think of politicians and media entertainers who decry government, any American government, as an imposition, whose careers depend on alienating citizens from their government, and who work to alienate “their” Americans from other Americans?
What’s happened to our collective, one for all, identity? Freedom once chose national collaboration. Now people want to be free to choose their own path. Maybe the biggest questions for today’s American government by, of, and for the people are: What people? Where are they? How do they conceive themselves, and to what greater idea are they dedicated?
I don’t think, “I’m not gonna get screwed by a) welfare queens b) uppity minorities c) gay people d) ‘illegals’ e) activist judges f) Tea party radicals g) the 1% h) all of the above, and I forgot some,” is a national meme Lincoln would endorse.
Rather, I’m sure, he would worry that the soldiers at Gettysburg, and those in Iraq and Afghanistan, might have vainly died for a society or a state or a populace that is no longer a nation at all.