A Gettysburg Soapbox

27 Apr

“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.”

I love this speech.  I picture Abraham Lincoln standing on this land that just 5 months previous was the site of the most devastating battle in American History.  Lincoln is brokenhearted that this war has taken so many lives.  Lincoln is brokenhearted that differences between the north and the south couldn’t be rectified without so much death.  Lincoln stands before these men and women trying to make sense of the devastation that took their sons, fathers, husbands and brothers.  He has gone to Gettysburg to pay tribute to these men.  To dedicate the battlefield to their memory.  He realizes that the best way that Americans can truly honor those who died is to come together as a nation, work through the differences and celebrate the rebirth of the United States of America.  What is interesting is that this speech came at the end of the ceremony and many people, relatives of those who had died had already left.  So many of the people that Lincoln meant this for never got to hear it.  Fortunately for us, someone somewhere along the line found value in this speech and it made its way into our History curriculum.  It made its way to the National Archives in Washington, DC.  

In the movie Remember the Titans, in an effort to bring together the black and white football players at the newly opened TC Williams HIgh School in Alexandria, VA, Denzel Washington’s character takes the boys on a 3:00 AM run.  They end up on the battlefield at Gettysburg and Washington turns to them and explains that 100 years ago young men; black, white and everything in between had fought on that battlefield for their rights.  He explains in words that I wish I could remember right now that those boys gave their lives, and here it was, 100 years later and it was like people were still fighting the same battle.  I can’t even think about that scene without tearing up.

What I think is really sad, though, is that Lincoln was killed before he got a chance to see his dreams realized.  I shake my head when I think about the words that Lincoln delivered,  

“..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.”  

All he wanted was to see America put back together.  Sometimes I just want to ask God to make sure that Lincoln knows that, although we still argue, athough we are still divided on so many issues, we are SO much better as a country than we were back then.  I think that it would warm his heart to know that although it took another 100 years we finally got rid of racism as a tolerable right of the white man.  This is to say, obviously there are still racists in the world, but that sort of behavior is not tolerated as an appropriate way of life.  What joy Lincoln would have taken in seeing his dream of reunification realized!  His leadership and his vision did so much to shape reconstruction.  Andrew Johnson worked tirelessly to see Lincoln’s Reconstruction put into effect.  Sadly, Congress took over and the process of Reconstruction did not look like what Lincoln had meant it to be.  

So, although this has gone on longer than I originally meant it to, I do have a point.  I try hard to mostly stay out of politics.  I know what I know and I believe in what I believe in.  But what I see around me is a broken country.  Certainly not to the extent that it was back in Lincoln’s day, but broken nonetheless.  I feel like we are becoming more and more divided and are simply trading back and forth Democrat and Republican presidents and senators and representatives.  And to what end?  No one is ever happy enough.  “We aren’t progressive enough!” Cry the liberals.  “We need to get back to family values!”  Shout the conservatives.  And you know what?  Both are right!   We don’t ever want to forget that our freedoms, the ones that give us the right to vote and speak freely and carry a gun and be treated with dignity, we hard-won in battle.  Is fighting always the answer?  Holy cow, no!!  But when we throw away civil conversations and we refuse to try to work together, we disregard the sacrifice of those soldiers on that battlefield back in the summer of 1863 and we make meaningless the effort put forth unabashedly to reunite the United States of America.  

In closing I would like to refute one thing that Mr. Lincoln said:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here…”

So untrue, Mr. President.  We remember and we thank you for reminding us of what we have in America.

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