Exactly 149 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in a speech lasting a little over two minutes:
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 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.
No mention of himself, no teleprompter needed.
In my opinion, this is the single greatest speech in American history, surpassing Washington’s Farewell Address, Lincoln’s own second inaugural speech, and FDR’s speech to Congress asking for a declaration of war against Japan. Perhaps President Reagan’s address at Normandy on the D-Day anniversary in 1984 comes closest in oratorical power.
Regardless, in those few words captured the reason why we came into being and why we continue to exist, what makes us, in a word many use but few really understand, “exceptional.” In fact, it wouldn’t be out of line to say this was the moment of our second Founding.
PS: Did you know President Lincoln wasn’t even the main speaker that day? The “main event” was an orator named Edward Everett, who spoke for over two hours. Thank Heaven we weren’t required to memorize that in school.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)