Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gettysburg 150 years on

This has been a remarkable week for anniversaries.

Friday was the 50th anniversary of the deaths within an hour of each other, of two of the 20th century's greatest writers, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Hudley, and of U.S. President John F Kennedy.

Also this week was the 150th anniversary of the day when another U.S. President and one of my personal heroes, Abraham Lincoln, gave one of the greatest speeches of all time, known as the Gettysburg Address.

That speech lasted less than four minutes and contains fewer than three hundred words, but it is truly inspirational. With characteristic modesty Lincoln was wrong when he predicted that the words he was saying would not long be remembered: his words are still worth remembering in the second decade of a new millenium, and I believe they will still mean something to future generations long after everyone alive today has passed into history.

This is the text of the "Bliss Copy" which is believed to be the most accurate record of what Lincoln said at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg on 19th November 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 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 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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