Remembering The Gettysburg Address

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. “The Gettysburg Address,” delivered by Abraham Lincoln at the dedication to Gettysburg National Cemetery, November 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

==

There are few places I consider sacred ground in America, but the Gettysburg National Cemetery (now Gettysburg National Military Park) is one of them. Gettysburg is remembered by semi-decently educated people for Pres. Lincoln’s famous address, but the nature of the place endures because of the horrific bloodshed that took place there, over three days, in the summer of 1863. Pickett’s Charge might be the most ludicrous desperate last acts in American military history, and remains the one stain on the otherwise prodigious leadership of Robert E. Lee. The only problem with that so-called last act is that is continued moving on for more than a year.

The history and mystery of Pres. Lincoln’s address endure, and do its context (the traditional 150-minute speech that preceded it, the myth that it was jotted on the back of the envelope on a train ride, the fact that the crowd sat in stunned silence when Lincoln finished the address). All that aside, the real endurance, the rhetorical beauty of the speech, is unparalleled in American letters.

Two-hundred-seventy-eight words – that is the length of the address. It is the writer’s goal to write something remarkable and previously unheard in as pithy a manner as possible, to employ a miser’s economy of words while conveying universal truths without wasting a word.

That sentence I just wrote – it is neither pithy nor is it economical – Lincoln was a better writer, obviously.

To read the speech – and I tend to do so more than once a year – is to see so many turns of the phrase it makes lesser mortals like me quite jealous, at least were I not in such awe. Trying to pick a “favorite” passage is futile, as so oft-referenced and well-known is each line of the speech … well?

…a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

It’s easy to forget, getting lost in the beauty of Pres. Lincoln’s words, that the bloodiest fight in American history was still taking place. When Fred-6 and others mock American exceptionalism and the invocation of it as somehow corny and shallow, they tend to forget America remains to this day the only nation that has gone to war – with itself – over the existence of with the goal being the abolition of human slavery. Yes, it was about State’s Rights and yes, there was more going on that just slavery, but if you think there was another driving force behind this conflict, well, bugger off. America is exceptional, and one of the reasons our nation is markedly different from other nations is the fact of this war and why it was fought.

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.

The writer in my says the last sentence was the one that Pres. Lincoln started with, and it’s the one he fought over whether or not to omit. It is the only non-elegiac phrase in the 278 words, and it lacks the lyrical rhythm of the rest of the speech. Yes, that is a critique and no, it’s not a negative one.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

That one is chalked up to irony, as Pres. Lincoln, in genuine humility, remarked on the unremarkable nature of the day itself as it went into the annals of history of the greatest speech delivered by an American, to Americans.

…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Philosophically the most important part of the speech, obviously closing it – is there a President since who hasn’t referenced this line since it was spoken?

As I don’t have children, I wonder if they still make kids memorize it in school? Not only is a layman’s understanding of the speech necessary for an educated citizenry, its utility as economical rhetoric is unmatched. If they don’t teach it, they should.

Advertisements

About godsowncrunk
I'm King B, the originator of the Jellywhite lyrical style and god's own crunk.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: