Seven Score And Fifteen Years Ago
155 years ago today, President Lincoln delivered one of the greatest addresses in American history.
On this day 155 years ago, a crowd gathered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at the site of the three-day long battle that had taken place there just over four months before to dedicate a cemetery to the war dead. It’s unclear at this point if the people who gathered there were fully aware of the extent to which that battle, and the fall of the Confederate outpost in Vicksburg, Mississippi that gave the Union complete control of the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two, had sealed the fate of the Confederacy. Indeed, it would be roughly another year and a half before the long and bloody Civil War would come to an end, and tens of thousands of men on both sides were yet to die. Nonetheless, a corner had been turned over those three days from which there would be no return.
Although he was not the featured speaker, President Lincoln was asked to say a few words and, while short, that speech would go down in history as one of the greatest in American history:
“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.”
So much said, with so few words.
Note: The photograph at the top of this post is the only known photograph of Lincoln at the Gettysburg battlefield on November 19, 1863. It was taken by the great Civil War era photographer Matthew Brady. While there is some disagreement among historians about which person in the photograph is Lincoln, if you look near the top center of the crowd in the photo, you’ll see a tall bearded man wearing a stovepipe hat who most seem to believe is the Sixteenth President of the United States.