"What lessons should Americans today draw from the Gettysburg Address?"
By Pam Fredericks
Seven score and ten years ago, one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known, gave a humble and short speech at a dedicatory service for a battle ground known as Gettysburg. The year was 1863. America was in the midst of a great and dreadful civil war. The war was started and fought over the subject of slavery and the justification of representation and states’ rights. The battle of Gettysburg witnessed the largest number of casualties of that war and was the turning point for the victorious Union. The Gettysburg Address is one of the most fundamental and inspirational speeches of American history. The author was Abraham Lincoln. He was a very wise and modest man. Not only did he give us the Gettysburg Address, he had a way with words and quotes such as, “Common looking people are the best in the world, that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them” and “No matter how much cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens”, and “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/abraham_lincoln.htm).
Americans today should draw lessons from the Gettysburg Address. It is full of knowledge and wisdom and is of serious yet steady significance. There are battles brewing over realities that cannot be altered because people do not like them, do not want them, or agree with them. The Founding Fathers utilized unchanging principles in constructing the way our country should be governed to protect everyone from themselves and others. The internal battles of our present day are unique but not new, and we can learn from the past to protect our future. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address draws on the past, present, and future. There are three important words that validate this theme: we, they, and us.
A new nation declared in 1776, used the argument that “all men are created equal” to justify their independence. Our society of 2014, has a hard time knowing what this really means. Equality refers to worth, having the same value. A twenty dollar bill is still worth twenty dollars even if it is new and crisp or old and worn. In the history of the world different groups have been treated unequal for various reasons. America has not been immune either. Equality is a state of being, a way of looking at other people since no two people are exactly the same. When we try to equalize things we lose the incentive and empowerment to be our best self. Whenever we esteem ourselves better or worse than another we invite the civil diseases such as entitlement, justification, blame, unaccountability, negativity, skewed senses of toleration and fairness, disobedience, and addictions. We, meaning society as a whole, at times dedicate ourselves to an “I deserve” proposition and a, “You owe me” mentality. I catch myself in some of these traps at times so I try to quickly get out of them by remembering that I can only be the best me and think about what makes someone the best them. Just because someone does something better, worse, or differently than me, it does not detract from who I am or who they are.
Taking a true look at ourselves makes it easier to have a true look at others. Lincoln questioned whether the nation that was “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal” would “long endure”. From the past, we know that those who stood up for that proposition ended up triumphant. So, if history questions itself and we look at other nations that have forgotten this proposition that we are equal and we treat each other and form policies under flattering, yet false pretenses, we will face possible destruction and a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” will perish. The role of government is to serve and empower the people as individuals. We need to remember that people are created equal in that they are not all the same but all have the same worth.
Lincoln honored, “those who here gave their lives”, the Union soldiers. Those men were fathers, sons, brothers, friends, and neighbors. Union and Confederate soldiers both fought valiantly for causes they thought just. Military service is one of the noblest things a person can do to honor themselves, their family, and their country. Their sacrifices along with their families’ are incomprehensible. The greatest sacrifice is life, but there are worse things than death which can haunt generations. The price of war is so great that Lincoln stated, “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 power to add or detract.”
We know the effects of war are devastating to say the least. Honoring the notion that we are created equal in our day will continue “the unfinished work which they who fought here”. We need to see ourselves and each other as people, not as black and white, old and young, male and female, or Democrat and Republican. We also definitely do not need to be slaves to a system of government that is not fully functioning as it was founded by not upholding the principles to which it is meant.
The United States has seen many wars and conflicts since the Civil War and we owe the same respect and reverence to those men and women who served this country, even if we don’t agree with the political platforms upon which these wars were fought. We are in debt to the heroes of the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Persian Gulf War, the Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Invasion of Afghanistan, and the Invasion of Iraq. We show our appreciation for these heroes and the things they defend and represent by remembering their sacrifices and teaching younger generations about them and events of the past and issues of the present. We uphold their bravery by treating each other kindly. We are losing the art and skill of being able to agree to disagree.
Being true to yourself liberates you and others to do the same. Acknowledging and accepting that we are different and all have a unique set of weaknesses and strengths creates equality and unity. Some people help the government be “of the people”, some help the government be “by the people”, and some help the government be “for the people”, and some help by being the people. If we remember and demonstrate this, then we will take Lincoln’s admonition to dedicate ourselves and resolve that no one who has fought and died will have done so in vain. We must not let this nation perish from the earth and it begins with each individual. Let us live with “increased devotion” by our interactions with people every day and what we choose to make our priorities. Choices of individuals lead to choices of generations which leave footprints in the past, mindsets of the present, and heartache or peace for the future.
We can remember and learn from the past so we will have a bright future and our government of, by, and for the people “shall not perish from the earth”. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address teaches us that we should remember that all men are created equal, we should honor those people who defend that truth, and we should show that we believe it!