"What lessons should Americans today draw from the Gettysburg Address?"
By Heidi Iordachescu
I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a teacher. I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am like you. I have long been an admirer of President Abraham Lincoln and the principles that he stood for. I have often thought of him as one of my heroes. As a teacher I have the opportunity to have an influence on my students. I take this as a serious responsibility and would never abuse that trust I have with them and their parents. Early in the school year we were told about the challenge to memorize and apply the principles discussed in the Gettysburg Address. My students are young 6 and 7 years old, and I initially believed that this task was too advanced for them. I decided to take on this challenge as a personal goal. As I began the journey of memorizing and interpreting what this speech meant, I realized that it is a timeless piece that would benefit all citizens young and old.
I teach a first grade Spanish dual immersion strand at my school. Each day I take a small portion of Lincoln’s speech and discuss the meaning with my students. We then memorize a small portion. We have about three fourths of the speech memorized. I can’t express adequately the huge sense of pride I feel as I listen to these 44 students sincerely recite Abraham Lincoln’s words with expression that gives me hope that these citizens, as young as they may be, might truly comprehend the remarkable insight of this great and humble man.
Abraham Lincoln recognized that our nation, in its infancy, was still very fragile. No other country is based on such a unique idea as expressed in the Declaration of Independence: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”. Our nation was formed on these principles and during the Revolutionary War we showed a dedicated effort to establish ourselves as such. In this age people make choices as if our nation were invincible. As a nation united we are powerful. We are exemplars of freedom to the world and yet, we are still fragile. If we do not respect the morals and principles that this nation was founded on, we too can succumb to tyranny. We must keep it a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. There is no position of leadership that is exempt of these principles.
In little less than 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution our country was tested in the most heart wrenching way. We fought amongst our families, our neighbors, our fellow citizens; each side insisting that they were in the right. Abraham Lincoln showed great insight into his insistence that the country remained unified. In the Gettysburg Address he avoided words that would cause conflict. Instead he used words that invite unity and elevated the nation’s sights to the future. As we look at world history, and even to our present day, there are countries that have engaged in civil wars, many still ongoing. These wars have left countries ravaged and citizens bitter and forever scarred. The threat of secession in our early history was a danger that could have left us vulnerable for other such rebellions. I have no doubt that if those early 11 states were allowed to secede, our nation might have faced a similar fate. Abraham Lincoln knew that if our nation was divided it would set a precedent, that groups unable to agree could simply pull away and form their own country leaving our once unified nation a tattered patchwork quilt of values and ideas. We would have no future.
President Lincoln showed the utmost respect to the soldiers that fought in the Civil War and specifically at Gettysburg. He knew the best way to honor these soldiers was to renew the principles of the citizens of this great nation and to help them see how essential their role was in the transformation of the “new birth of freedom”. The Gettysburg Address was Abraham Lincoln’s continual call to action for the inhabitants of his time and throughout the existence of our United States of America. We too must hear the call. We must ask ourselves, what is the unfinished work? In what way can we pick up where those “who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced”? The soldiers of Gettysburg were not fighting for the right to own slaves or not. They were not fighting for victory. They were fighting for the right to have their voice heard. They were fighting for values that this nation was conceived from. They were fighting for the future of the nation.
The lessons that can be learned from this great test is that no group of people in America are more important that the ideals and values that this nation was founded on. We were established on these principles and not those of the agenda of special interest groups. If we are unhappy with the direction that our nation is going, we have the right and responsibility to be dedicated in our cause. We must join together and be unified in purpose. “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…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 this earth.” It is our right and responsibility to support the leaders who have our nation’s best interest in mind. If we cannot support someone who is running in the political arena, local or national, we need to find someone we can support or step up ourselves. Abraham Lincoln was a self-educated man. He received no more than one year of formal education and yet he prepared himself to serve his country. He saw a need and he filled it. The ethics that he displayed are the ones we should encourage and instill in ourselves and our children. He sought after education. He was honest. He led with integrity, dedicated to a cause that many did not understand.
Abraham Lincoln had a vision for our country where, “all men are created equal.” These equalities allow us certain freedoms. These rights do not guarantee our success or happiness but they do promise the opportunity to seek it. I hope that memorizing and discussing this speech will be a great influence on the lives of the students I teach. They are the promise of the future and I want to make sure they have access to every opportunity for happiness and success. By instilling in them these values mentioned hopefully they will rise to the call and be ”dedicated to the great task remaining before us”. I am a wife, a mother, and a teacher. I am like you. I am a citizen of the United States of America.