“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…”; and with these words, President Lincoln started his dedication speech for the cemetery in which the 51,000 soldiers killed in the Battle of Gettysburg are buried.
That day in November, 1863 was a climactic moment which shall forever be left for historians to debate; but it mentions a very interesting moment in the history of this great nation – that battle was fought on the week of the 87th birthday of this nation; and coincidently, this week marks its 244th.
The Battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania marked the turning point of the Civil War; and ended General Robert E. Lee’s most energetic and ambitious invasion into the territory of the North. It was the bloodiest battle of the war, with the largest number of casualties; and the small community of Gettysburg had set into the job of burying the dead with a passion; being about half finished when the dedication of the cemetery was scheduled to be held.
The official “oration” was delivered by Mr. Edward Everett, a consummate politician and public servant: having served as Secretary of State, United States Representative, United States Senator and Governor of Massachusetts. He had also served as the President of Harvard University and was a candidate for the office of Vice President.
The fact that he spoke for almost two hours in an eloquence that President Lincoln’s hurried and harried oratory could never match is little known; but it is well known that probably none of you have ever read that speech; while every student on elementary school is – or used to be — required to read Mr. Lincoln’s ten sentences.
In fact, President Lincoln was invited almost as an after-thought only seventeen days prior to the event by a letter from the organizers: “It is the desire that after the oration, you, as chief executive of the nation formally set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks”.
Everett’s speech went on into the day; Lincoln’s ten sentence masterpiece (later to be determined) lasted almost three minutes. Lincoln, showing the effects of the war, finished with these words: “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 battlefield 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 that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate … we cannot consecrate … we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract”.
In a stunningly under-stated remark, he continued: “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 thus far so nobly advanced. It is 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 song of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.
From then to now, our nation has spent its two hundred forty-four years bettering the world; providing Christian mission works to the world; establishing Christian schools, church-related hospitals, and moral-based government. Our nation represents two hundred forty-four years of patriots’ bloodshed, extraordinary achievements in industry and science, and serving as the bread basket to the world.
To be sure, we have some problems, and they seem to be multiplying in direct proportion to the decrease of patriotism and moral quality; but, the last time I checked, we don’t have to have a wall to keep our citizens IN. The last time I checked, we still have “In God We Trust” on our coinage. The last time I checked, the Christian flag can still fly freely next to the national colors. The last time I checked, I can still write and speak freely (since I try to observe the rules of common courtesy). The last time I checked, I can still proclaim the shed blood of Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven.
The last time I checked — but then I haven’t checked in the last hour. Are things changing that quickly?
Tom Mooty has served as pastor of the West End Baptist Church of Newport for an aggregate of over thirty-three years. His columns appear in the Thursday and Weekend Editions of the Newport Plain Talk. Your comments about these columns will be welcomed at email@example.com; or write to Tom Mooty at P.O. Box 851; Newport, TN 37822.