John Bolton

John Bolton

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Monday, May 25, 2009

A Memorial Day Message for the Ages

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address


The Daniel Chester French Victory atop the Memorial to the First Division of the Army, the Big Red One, outside the White House (monument details here). Photo by Mike's America

Memorial Day first started as Decoration Day when citizens of the reunited Northern and Southern states began an annual observance of the 600,000 lives lost during the American Civil War. (history of the holiday here)

So it is perhaps fitting that we take Lincoln's Gettysburg Address delivered at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863 as the text for today. The battle at Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War and 7,500 lives were lost.

The invitation for Lincoln to speak was an afterthought to the organizers. They had already invited the famed orator Edward Everett to speak. Lincoln was invited to give just a few words after Everett spoke.

Everett's speech went on for two hours. (Remind you of anyone?) Afterwards Lincoln delivered these 272 words which history has remembered while Everett's speech is forgotten:

The Gettysburg Address

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, November 19, 1863

A few days later, Lincoln received a letter from Everett (original) which said:

"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."
Gettysburg Address read by Actor Sam Waterston:

Help Bugles Across America Honor Veterans

While you are enjoying the holiday, why not take a moment to honor veterans this Memorial Day with a contribution to Bugles Across America.

It's a group dedicated to making sure that veterans have an actual bugler at their funeral, and not a recording. They have volunteers in all 50 states ready to provide this service but they need help. Many of the expenses have been covered out of the bugler's own pockets. A donation will make it easier for them to continue providing this service now and in the future. (CNN interview here).

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