"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 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."
Today marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's most famous speech, a speech still memorized by school children and admired for its brief poignancy. The Gettysburg Address, perhaps one of the most famous war-time speeches of all time, was not your typical "guts and glory" motivational appeal. One of the reasons it resonates so deeply with us 150 years later is because Lincoln took his three minutes to accomplish two very important tasks. First he cast a vision for a united nation. Up until this time the United States still viewed themselves primarily as a collection of independent states, bound together for various purposes but each maintaining some level of its own autonomy. President Lincoln knew that in order for the nation to survive as a whole, it had to band together and form a national identity. He casts a vision for a nation born in a "new birth of freedom", something that would have appealed to his audience and indeed, continues to inspire us today. He skillfully begins to plant the seeds that would result in people thinking of themselves first as Americans and secondly as citizens of their states. Secondly, Lincoln sought to pave the way for a smooth transition from civil war to national unity. No where in the speech does he deride the Southern States for succeeding. He honors all the "brave men who struggled" on that bloody field and he reminds his audience of the heritage of their country, knowing that in order for the two sides to come together after four years of fighting it was of utmost importance that there be a unifying vision and force that would bind the North with the South. Sadly, Lincoln's assassination was the death knell for a gentler reunification and the Radical Republicans took over reconstruction efforts paving a way for geographic divisions and cruel Jim Crow laws. Yet, Lincoln's vision continues to inspire us and remind us that as a nation we can choose mercy over fear and freedom over security.
In order to help you study this momentous event, here are some of our favorite resources.
New York Times front page from the day of Lincoln's speech.
Images of one of the existing copies of the Gettysburg Address.
Resources to study the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Original source material collections:
Biographies of major players:
Abraham Lincoln by James Daugherty
Virginia's General: Robert E. Lee and the Civil War by Albert Marrin
Lee and Grant at Appomattox by MacKinlay Kantor
Classic Civil War Literature:
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
Great Civil War Websites: