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President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

From July 1-3, 1863, the fate of America hung in the balance at the crossroads town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Over the course of those three momentous days, General Robert E. Lee and his mighty Army of Northern Virginia came close to achieving a potential war-winning victory in the Civil War, but General George G. Meade and his Army of the Potomac stood tall when it mattered most, beating back ferocious Confederate attacks and emerging triumphant. When combined with General Ulysses S. Grant’s conquest of the mighty Mississippi River fortress of Vicksburg on July 4, the Army of the Potomac’s triumph at Gettysburg turned the tide of the Civil War toward ultimate victory for the Union.

With an estimated 51,000 casualties across both sides, the once quiet town of Gettysburg had been transformed into the bloodiest battlefield of the Civil War. Four months after this colossal clash of arms, President Abraham Lincoln had accepted an invitation to attend the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg and to offer “a few appropriate remarks” to consecrate the final resting place for the guardians of the Union who had fallen there earlier that summer.

On Thursday, November 19, 1863, after the main speaker for the dedication ceremony, Edward Everett, had given a two-hour oration, Lincoln rose to address a crowd of some 15,000 people. In a speech that was less than 300 words and that took less than two minutes to deliver, Lincoln spoke from the soul, honoring those who “gave the last full measure of devotion,” reminding the war-torn nation what America stood for, why the country must “have a new birth of freedom,” and why this terrible war must be fought and won. Even 156 years later, the profound power of the words contained within President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address continue to inspire the nation that he saved from ruin and transformed for the better.

The Gettysburg Address

November 19, 1863

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 the 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.