Gettysburg Sesquicentennial: Far Above Our Poor Power to Add or Detract

One hundred and fifty years ago, President Lincoln gave his famous speech, commemorating the battle where American soldiers repelled the invasion of Southerners committing treason to protect their heritage of slavery. Even today, it is not uncommon to see Americans who display symbols embracing that heritage. That’s their right, of course — under the Constitution from which their forebearers sought to absent themselves. But I certainly question the judgment of such people.

Here is what President Lincoln said about that battle and the cemetery to consecrate those who died fighting it:

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 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; November 19, 1863.


  1. John M says

    Regarding those who display confederate symbols, I’ve always found this Ulysses Grant quote, from his memoirs, poignant:

    “I would not have the anniversaries of our victories celebrated, nor those of our defeats made fast days and spent in humiliation and prayer; but I would like to see truthful history written. Such history will do full credit to the courage, endurance and soldierly ability of the American citizen, no matter what section of the country he hailed from, or in what ranks he fought. The justice of the cause which in the end prevailed, will, I doubt not, come to be acknowledged by every citizen of the land, in time. For the present, and so long as there are living witnesses of the great war of sections, there will be people who will not be consoled for the loss of a cause which they believed to be holy. As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man.”

    If Grant, Lincoln, et. al. could have known that Lost Cause-ism would persist into the 21st Century, my guess is that confederate officers who were allowed to re-enter respectable society might have been handled a bit more harshly.

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