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A brief but long remembered speech

By, Jack Swift
Freelance Writer

President Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, made a number of speeches during his time in office but in my view none more moving than the Gettysburg Address. That famous speech has stood the test of time and is held up by many people to be one of the most profound speeches ever. It is concise, clear and brief but it also evokes emotions consistent with the serious nature of the occasion.

Many speeches of yore were long and drawn out. Two hour or longer political speeches were not unheard of at the time of Lincoln’s famous address. President Lincoln wasn’t the featured speaker that day and his address was ridiculed by some and lauded by some but before long it was recognized as being an outstanding speech and it remains so today.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from Wednesday, July 1 until Friday, July 3, 1863. It was an awful battle fought near the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I feel fortunate to have toured the Gettysburg battlefield in the early sixties when I visited by brother and sister-in-law, Ray and Nora Mae Swift, when they were living in Avondale, Pennsylvania. The battle was fought about halfway into the war and is considered to be one of the bloodiest battles of that conflict. The battle was fought between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia with 70,000 men commanded by General Robert E. Lee and the Federal Army of the Potomac with 94,000 men commanded by Major General George G. Meade. The Con¬federate casualties numbered about 28,000 while the Federal forces suffered about 23,000.

Seventeen acres of land was purchased for a national cemetery and a dedication was set for October 23. Edward Everett of Boston was chosen for the orator of the day. Everett, a very accomplished man who had been pastor, professor, representative, governor, president of Harvard, secretary of state and U. S. Senator. He was frequently called upon to speak at various functions.

Following Everett’s speech, the ceremony was almost over. It was reported that the planning committee had gotten word that President Lincoln would be in attendance and it had reservations about his ability to relate to such a serious occasion. Upon being introduced, Lincoln rose to speak, put his glasses on, drew a small piece of paper from his pocket and proceeded to make one of the greatest speeches of all time. That short but pithy speech follows.

“Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon 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 are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of 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 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 de¬tract. 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 that they have thus for 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 here 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.”

There were times in the history of mankind when people rose above some folks’ expectations. President Lincoln most surely did at the dedication of that national cemetery at Gettysburg. He is considered one of History’s greatest presidents. Preserving the Union was a monumental achievement during a tumultuous time.