Most of us have heard those famous words, but I wonder how often anyone takes the time to reflect upon their meaning.
On November 2, 1863, many months after the battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) had ended, Governor David Wills invited President Abraham Lincoln to make “a few appropriate remarks” at the consecration of a cemetery for the Union war dead.
Lincoln accepted the invitation, probably viewing the event as an appropriate time to honor the war dead, as well as reveal his evolving thinking about the war, not merely as a fight to save the Union but as an opportunity to establish freedom for all those under the law.
On November 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln spoke the now-famous words. At the time, the President drew criticism because of the brevity of his comments. Yet those “few appropriate remarks” have gone on to be one of the most memorable speeches of all time:
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon 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 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.
Well said, Mr. President.
For more information on the Gettysburg Address or Abraham Lincoln, visit: