by Jim Toes
Earlier this week was the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. A speech whose opening words, "Four score and seven years ago," is the most revered and recognized speech in our nation's history.
For me, the Gettysburg Address holds a very special place in my life because it was often recited word for word with the passion of a Shakespearean actor by my father. It was in elementary school when my father learned the 272-word speech, and like fine wine his delivery only got better over the years. When I was a teenager, my father would recite the speech and then present it as empirical data to prove "that you kids today are not learning anything, you only care about your grades." I find myself saying the same thing to my kids today, but I lack the data used so effectively by my father since I cannot recite anything more 140 characters.
"For me, the Gettysburg Address holds a very special place in my life because it was often recited word for word with the passion of a Shakespearean actor by my father. It was in elementary school when my father learned the 272-word speech, and like fine wine his delivery only got better over the years."
When President Lincoln gave this historic speech, our nation was in a very different place than we are today. We are fortunate to live in a nation that is united. Our government, which some would like to change, is not facing a threat of perishing from the face of the earth.
These realities, however, do not mean the speech has no meaning today. Quite the contrary: the speech is timeless because its message is core to what we believe as a nation, given at a very dark time in our nation’s history. Equality before the law remains very much a principle that defines us. And to this day, we continue to draw inspiration from those who came before us, whose struggle and sacrifice gave the nation the strength and freedom we enjoy today.
I reprint the speech in its brief entirety below. I must have heard it in my father’s voice a hundred times, but it resonates as clear as ever today.
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.
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