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Politics & Policy

Seven Score and Sixteen Years Ago

Union volunteers march before the “Pickett’s Charge” reenactment during events marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, in Gettysburg, Pa., June 30, 2013. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

Today is the 156th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address—one of the most profound and simultaneously the most compact of the great speeches of the American political tradition. It’s so short I can easily just put it all before you right here:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon 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 come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do.

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 hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, 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.

But it runs so deep, that it’s worth really digging into with the help of great students of Lincoln. One of the best, in my estimation, is my American Enterprise Institute colleague (and Loyola University of Maryland professor) Diana Schaub. Her 2014 National Affairs essay “Lincoln at Gettysburg” is an absolute must-read.

Another is NR’s own Richard Brookhiser, whose spectacularly good new book Give Me Liberty has a great chapter on the Gettysburg address. Highly recommended. And as it happens, I’ll be discussing that new book with him at an AEI event this evening, at 5:30. If you’re in DC, come by and see it, here’s where you can register.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” Lincoln said at Gettysburg—which just goes to show that even great statesmen aren’t always right.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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