"What lessons should Americans today draw from the Gettysburg Address?"
By Colton Osguthorpe - 11th Grade
“Four score and seven years ago . . .” as most Americans know this is how the Gettysburg address, one of the most important speeches in our nation’s history, begins. Yet few know its significance and understand how important it is to us as a nation today. Though it was given 150 years ago in a time vastly different than ours it still applies to us today and there is much that we can learn from it. The Gettysburg address is unique and ground breaking in that it places the responsibility of maintaining and improving our nation not on state governments and not on the federal government but on the people. It is our duty, as Americans, to ensure unity, good government, and to continue our traditions of freedom.
Even though this speech was given in the midst of a horrible and violent conflict, where brother fought brother, President Lincoln did not speak in terms of north or south but as a united nation. In his speech there is no partisanship, and from this we can learn much. Today many issues divide us as a nation. Divisive issues like abortion, the role of government, debt, and gun control tear at the very fabric of our national unity. Many times we see ourselves as Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives. Horrible things are said to each other on both sides. Often it seems like we will never get along and that hate and disrespect towards one another have become commonplace and okay. We must follow the counsel of President Lincoln and realize that though we may be different and have different views it is our responsibility as Americans to treat each other with respect and have the understanding that even though we are different our end goal of a better nation are the same and that we have more in common than not. We must not allow anything to divide our nation and we must not repeat the mistakes of those who came before us.
Today many people are quick to criticize our government and how it is run, dissatisfaction with congress is at an all-time low. Yet voter turnout for the 2012 presidential election was 57.5% according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. People complain about President Obama and his policies but they don’t vote and they don’t do anything to enact change. President Lincoln stated that government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. It is our responsibility, as the people, to ensure good government and to participate in elections and policy making. According to Statisticsbrain.com 1.3 million Americans have died in wars. Is this how we repay that sacred sacrifice? With 57.5% voter turnout, barely half? The Gettysburg address was given at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery and in it President Lincoln stated that “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion”. Have we lived up to this promise? Have we honored those who gave the “last full measure of devotion”? There is much more that we could do as a nation to ensure good government and honor those who have died for our freedoms.
America has a long and strong tradition of freedom and opportunity, yet it is an unfinished work. We have a responsibility to continue the great democratic experiment that is America. In the Gettysburg address President Lincoln stated that “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”. We must remain dedicated to the work of our forbears who gave their blood, sweat, and tears so that we may enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that we have today. As Americans it is our responsibility to continue the strong tradition of freedom that our founders began. Today in an ever changing and hostile world we are surrendering many of our freedoms in the name of security. It was Benjamin Franklin who said that “those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither”. We must follow President Lincoln’s counsel and always dedicate ourselves to defending and continuing our freedoms and continuing the democratic traditions of our forefathers.
The Gettysburg address can seem ancient and irrelevant today, given in a bygone time that few Americans know deeply about. Yet it still holds themes and messages that apply to us today. Its message of freedom, unity, and civic responsibility are often forgotten in today’s hectic and fast paced world, but there is much we can learn from it. The high bar that President Lincoln set for our nation in this historic speech has not been reached and many of his challenges to us have been forgotten. As President Lincoln said “it is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us”. We must remain dedicated to the great task of ensuring unity, good government, and continuing our traditions of freedom.