31 Posts in 31 Days: #3
I can never think about what happened in Pennsylvania on July 4, 1776, without thinking about what took place in Pennsylvania, July 3, 1863.
On July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, the founders of our nation declared us free and independent from Great Britain. They proclaimed to the world that we were a sovereign nation, free to choose our own path. Free to map our own destiny. They said that God had endowed men with certain unalienable rights -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They declared that all men were created equal.
On July 3, 1863, in the small, quiet, college town of Gettysburg, the descendants of those founders met on the field of war, opposite their own countrymen -- sometimes opposite their own brothers -- in the greatest battle ever fought on American soil, to determine whether the United States of America would live up to it's own founding ideal: That all men are created equal.
The Battle of Gettysburg saw 50,000 American casualties. The most ever, by far, in a single battle. The three days of blood and sacrifice broke the back of the Confederacy, and the ideals for which the signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, came a step closer to reality.
Freedom and equality are the great promises of America, and as the city set on a hill, the day of reckoning had to come. For eighty seven years the United States had lived with the paradox of being the light of liberty to the world, and still maintaining the institution of human slavery. Something had to give -- even the founders knew that. The civil war was fought for many reasons -- some fought for states rights, some fought for adventure, some for glory -- but the cause of the war was slavery.
Several months after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the battlefield to the brave Americans who died there, and he dedicated the great remaining struggle to the eradication of slavery, and the enshrinement of liberty and equality for all men.
"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 battlefield 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 the nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, 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 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."