Today marks the 148th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address given by Abraham Lincoln. The president was invited to the dedication of the new and incomplete Soldiers’ National Cemetery four months after the Battle of Gettysburg. He was really invited as an afterthought for “a few appropriate remarks” as the key speaker was Edward Everett. A master orator, Everett droned on for two hours before the president took the podium for a two minute speech. Afterward, Lincoln felt the speech was a failure, but Everett was impressed, saying it only took Lincoln two minutes to come to the point of what took him two hours.
There were 53,000 casualties in three days at Gettysburg. Picture an entire stadium of people dead or wounded over a 72-hour period. Now I hear they’re saying casualty estimates may be low. That is why the National Cemetery was necessary and why the president came to help dedicate it. That is why we still honor those dead today. They gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
The Gettysburg Address is arguably one of the most famous and celebrated speeches in American history. Here you may listen to it as read by Jeff Daniels, who played Joshua L. Chamberlain in the film Gettysburg, and then you may read the text of the speech below it. Really consider it. Does it still apply today?
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 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.
–Abraham Lincoln, 19 November, 1863