Created on: February 06, 2013 Last Updated: February 11, 2013
The Gettysburg Address is President Abraham Lincoln’s best known oration and perhaps one of the most important in our nation’s history. In addition to communicating his desire to reunite his divided country, he also makes references to the promise of freedom and equality for all.
The year was 1863 and the Civil War had reached its turning point at Gettysburg. This battle resulted in high casualties in both the Union and Confederate armies, with General Lee retreating after losing more than a third of his forces. A ceremony was to be held to consecrate a new burial ground for the fallen soldiers, many having been hastily buried in unmarked graves. Lincoln was not invited as the key speaker for this occasion, though it is his remarks that made history.
He begins by addressing the birth of our nation eighty seven years earlier and the document that served as the credo for our fledgling country, the Declaration of Independence. To an expanding country divided on the issue of slavery, he spoke of the principle that “all men are created equal”. He explained that in order to preserve the Union that was created and the ideals for which it stands, we fought this long and bloody battle.
As stated in a prior speech, Lincoln knew that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” He questions in the Gettysburg address whether the nation and its principles can survive the secession of the Southern states, and the war that followed, to come together as a whole nation once more. He knew that the war was a necessary evil to prevent the spread of slavery as the nation gained new territories. He also knew that the country must be either all slaves or all free people; a mixture could no longer be permitted. He urges Americans, by hearkening back to the country's inception, to remember why they had come to this battle and what it was they were fighting for.
Despite the original purpose put to the orators that day, to make hallowed ground out of a potter’s field, Lincoln insisted that we could not consecrate that ground in any meaningful way. Praising the soldiers who had made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation, he went on to say that they themselves have hallowed the ground with their devotion. Instead, those who bore witness and lived on must remember and honor their sacrifice, a principle which Americans hold dear even to this day.
Lastly, he is encouraging the people to remain strong and see the battle through until the end. The challenges of bringing this war to an end, reuniting and rebuilding the nation were still ahead and would not be easily won. Preservation of the country and the ideals created at its birth were the highest priority. He spoke, toward the end of his speech, of a “new birth of freedom”. Earlier in 1863, Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, proclaiming all slaves in the Confederate states free. Lincoln reinforced his commitment to this ideal with these words, promising that the war will not only reunite the nation, but that all would be free at war’s end.
This address is still relevant and important to the nation today. Americans should always look to their history and remember how their country came to be the great nation that it is. To ensure this continued existence, Americans must be united, not divided.
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