Today is the 146th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of one of the most sublime and enduring political statements in history: The Gettysburg Address. The 16th President stood and spoke simply and directly, in just a few short minutes, framing the meaning of the horrible but decisive Civil War battle at Gettysburg. In his words he explains to his war weary nation and the world the meaning of the terrible and bloody conflict.
For Lincoln the War marked history’s greatest test determining whether a nation born and borne on the principles of self-government could endure not only external foes – as she had in the Revolution – but dividing internal strife. For Lincoln America was a God-founded nation, “Under God” he calls her. Preserving her unity was for him a calling from God himself. To be so placed – Under God – is to recognize that all our valued rights and the laws that protect them have a higher source and a spiritual accountability. America, Lincoln believed and proclaimed, was a society governed by laws, not men, and those laws derived their power from God and his moral stipulations.
Lincoln in this sense is speaking this great address not only to Americans past and future, but also as a kind of prayer, a declaration to God, that we do not take his gift of trust lightly, and that we will resolve to not let God’s great American experiment fall to dust!
Here’s Lincoln’s Gettysburg “Prayer”
“Fourscore 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 honoured 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 freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”