19 November 2013

Four score and seven years ago...

On this day 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, one of the most beautiful documents ever written, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. It took a little over two minutes.  It is in its entirety below:

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.
Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863
As I read these words,  it feels like we are still at battle with each other. Not physically right now, but in every other way. We are still fighting to prove the proposition that all men are created equal. And it feels like our elected officials have all but forgotten that this is a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” 
These words are so wise and so artfully crafted (this is one of five different versions of the Gettysburg Address. It is the Bliss version and is the one that is most frequently quoted) and they so skillfully reiterate the message from the Declaration of Independence.  Despite Lincoln believing that the world  “will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” these sentences are a framework for how this country should continue to advance. 
I’ve read the Address so many times today and each time it stuns me with its sagacity and brevity. I’m filled with hope that we will achieve equality one day. It didn’t happen in Lincoln’s lifetime and it won’t happen in ours, but sliver by sliver, we will get there. 
Today’s $10 goes to The Advancement Project, which describes itself as “a next generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggle for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy.” How Lincolnian of them. 
They achieve their goals through fighting for voter rights and providing access to justice for all. Lincoln knew that a country will never be great as it can be without treating its citizens equal. The Advancement Project continues the fight to achieve what he set forth in the Gettysburg Address. 
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