“Four score 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. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for 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 can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. 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 which they who fought here have thus far 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 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.”
— Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pa., Nov. 19, 1863
So, where are they, or rather, we, the people? In 1865, a couple of months after the assassination, Sen. Charles Sumner said of Lincoln that he was mistaken, saying: “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.”
Rather, the senator stated: “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it.” I would eagerly agree, except that the events, attitudes and actions within America’s current political culture cause me to fear that we have forgotten Lincoln’s words; especially the part about a government of, by and for the people. For as much as we all complain about our government’s leaders, Washington D.C. and our “do-nothing,” hostile Congress, theoretically we put them all there. Apparently also theoretically, they represent us, work for us both individually and corporately for the good of our whole country.
My plea here is that no matter how disillusioned, disgruntled or disgusted you or “we” are with sitting politicians or potential candidates, we make certain to VOTE in this upcoming election. We must participate again in our own government, which is NOT , I would argue stridently, a “democracy” at the present time. With the obscene amount of money being spent by campaigns to buy votes, endorsements and insulting epithets for their speeches and debates, government of, by and for the people seems as though it may have already perished from the earth.
Ages ago when I was in the ninth grade, our American Government teacher asked us to define a “democracy” in as few words as possible. Most of us were lucky to fit our first responses on one side of a piece of notebook paper.
She kept saying, “No, much shorter than THAT” although we whittled away at our definitions, we finally just gave up and looked at her smiling pityingly back at us.
“Four words,” she said: The people are sovereign.
That being the case and all, why do we all sound like “victims” of some evil cast of characters other than our own selves? Of course, from my perspective as an Episcopal priest, we are co-existing with some evil characters. In the Kingdom of God, God is sovereign; “evil” results in this world because we forget that and want to be God.
My long-ago teacher’s definition of democracy makes me more than just a little nervous! But church and state being surgically removed from each other (theoretically), I won’t divert this diatribe from my intentional, political exhortation.
If, in a democracy, we the people are supposed to be sovereign, let us beso, first exercising that sovereignty by voting our own consciences and concerns, not anybody else’s money-backed interests. Please!
[May] we here highly resolve that [any and all] of our 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.”
THE REV. MARILYN M. SANDERS is retired rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Bainbridge. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org