Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Great Task Remaining

In honor of the day, few words are more appropriate than those of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863). This short speech is beautiful in its parallel structure, its simple phrasing, and its heartfelt message to the people whose hearts were breaking over a war that, it seemed, would never end.

But Lincoln's words (which were not, as legend has it, scrawled hastily on an envelope on the way to the event) retain their dignity 150 years later, and can be applied to the sacrifices of any patriot, from the Minutemen of the Revolution to the veterans of any American war.

Here is Lincoln's beautiful speech:

"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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