November 19, 2004
It's Always About the Dead

from Garrison Keillor's writer's almanac, for today

"It was on this day in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln got up in front of about 15,000 people seated at a new national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and delivered the Gettysburg Address. Gettysburg was the pivotal battle of the Civil War, with 45,000 casualties over three days in early July that year. After the battle, a Gettysburg man named David Wills had the terrible task of identifying and burying the dead. Wills wrote Lincoln and asked him to attend the cemetery's dedication ceremony, because, he said, Lincoln's presence would "...kindle anew in the breasts of the Comrades of those brave dead a confidence that they who sleep in death on the Battle Field are not forgotten by those highest in Authority."

It was a foggy, cold morning, and Lincoln arrived about 10 AM. Around noon the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and orator Edward Everett spoke for over two hours. Around 3 PM Lincoln got up to speak. He spoke for only two minutes, and when he sat down most of the people in the back of the crowd didn't know he'd even spoken: Lincoln thought his speech, the Gettysburg Address, was a failure. He ended with:

"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.""

Posted by dbrown at November 19, 2004 03:30 PM
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