HILLSBOROUGH: Remembering a great speech 150 years later

Lincoln speech at Gettysburg was short but powerful

   We pause as writers, history buffs and Americans to remember the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s address on Nov. 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, battlefield that was the site of a massive slaughter that most historians agree represents the final turning of the tide of the Civil War.
   Mr. Lincoln’s most famous speech wasn’t even the featured attraction that day. He didn’t think that much of it himself.
   In June 1865, Senator Charles Sumner said Mr. Lincoln was mistaken that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” Rather, the Bostonian remarked, “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech.”
   As writers, we marvel at the power of his words and simplicity of his speech. His address didn’t need to be long. Less was certainly more.
   As Americans, we continue to recall the test of our nation torn asunder, the character and strength of a man who ached with every battlefield report and fought so hard to keep the nation together.
   Here is the speech, memorized by generations of schoolchildren:
   ”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.”