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May 24, 2014

In Our Opinion: In Memoriam

This message appears each Memorial Day weekend in The Daily Star.

A tall, awkward, angular man stood up on a cold fall day in 1863 and spoke to a crowd assembled on the field of the most terrible battle of our nation’s most terrible war.

There, in the unfinished cemetery near that little Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, nothing was certain, least of all the survival of the American experiment.

In his reedy voice and flat Western accent, Abraham Lincoln set forth a brief history of the union, examined the conflict and gave a vision of what lay beyond.

He saw not the old union restored but a new nation, transformed and consecrated by the struggle that attended its birth.

Defying Lincoln’s modest prediction, the words and vision have survived.

Lincoln’s words were overshadowed by those of the previous speaker, Edward Everett, whose two-hour speech preceded Lincoln’s modest two-minute address.

But those present at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery recognized the profound message contained in Lincoln’s simple eloquence, interrupting his speech with applause five times.

Everett himself remarked afterward in a note to Lincoln that “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Today, Lincoln’s words are etched in the stones of monuments and the souls of all Americans. They fill the air each Memorial Day as the nation pauses to reflect on patriotism and sacrifice.

Here is what he said:

Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on 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.

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