Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Last Full Measure Of Devotion

Before getting started today, have a peek over at our joint blog for a different kind of review of Thor: The Dark World. And leave us a comment!

Now then, there's an anniversary of sorts to mark for our southern neighbours tomorrow, so that's what I'm doing today....

He arrived at the dedication service for the National Soldier's Cemetery on a November day in 1863, months after the terrible battle that transformed a quiet Pennsylvania crossroads forever. His invitation was almost an afterthought, and he was not the keynote speaker. Yet his short address would come to be thought of as his greatest speech, this from a man who had such an innate skill at speaking.

Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg, in the midst of a bloody civil war that set American against American, tore the country apart, with casualty rates that shocked people at home and abroad. At stake was the very meaning of freedom, and the future of the country. From 1861 to 1865, Americans killed each other in large numbers, and the President faced a crisis the country had not seen before or since. The Battle of Gettysburg in July had been the biggest ever fought on the American continent, a bloody victory for the Union, and the battleground would now house a cemetery.

Lincoln sat quietly on the platform among the guests, surrounded by soldiers and civilians. He seemed ill on the trip to and from Gettysburg, and was observed to seem sad and drawn. The keynote speaker that day, November 19th, was a politician and clergyman, Edward Everett. He went on for two hours in an oration, which oddly was a common thing for cemetery dedications at the time. Then it came time for the President to speak.

There are five different copies of his remarks today, with slight differences. The one that we treat as the standard bears his signature, and consists of ten sentences, a brief set of remarks that took him a couple of minutes to recite. The audience response to the remarks was minimal, to say the least. But in those ten sentences, he summed up the entire war.

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 that 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.

Through sheer force of will, he held the country together through bloody civil war. He stands today as the greatest American President for that achievement. One hundred fifty years ago tomorrow, Abraham Lincoln gave his greatest speech in a career of  great speeches at this quiet cemetery, and his words live on. They are memorized today by schoolchildren. They are carved on his memorial in Washington. They are recited by speakers in his own country and beyond. It is a fitting legacy for the Great Emancipator.


  1. All week, the media focus has been on the JFK assassination. I'd forgotten this was the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address....

  2. The orator spoke for like two hours and eighteen minutes. Then he had to admit that what he tried to convey in over two hours, President Lincoln had done better in less than fifteen minutes. Lincolns words were carefully chosen. He did add "under God" while speaking, and then included it in all his later copies of his address.

  3. Considering one of my novels is set during the Civil War, I probably should have remembered that this anniversary is tomorrow. Oops! Lovely tribute!

  4. Very well written, Sir Wills.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  5. A very nice tribute to Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address.

  6. I was just reading an article about the man who recites the address and is reciting it for the anniversary. I wish I could've made it out there again this week!! Ah well. Great post!

  7. Thanks William, I have not heard Lincolns iconic speech for a while, it never loses it's inspirational and motivational effect..

  8. If my husband still taught social studies (he's now a supervisor of the department) I'm sure he'd be reading this speech to his students.

  9. Another blogger I read posted about the Gettysburg Address. You both wrote interesting takes on the day.
    One summer we took the children on a tour of Mount Vernon and many of the Civil War Battlefields. Walking the battlefields puts the Gettysburg Address in perspective. We ended in Washington DC. We knew someone in the Clinton staff and got a personal tour. The White House is beyond Fabulous.
    When you visit history it really bring home what happen all those years ago for us.
    The way our government is acting now maybe they need to revisit history.

    Wonderful post today.

    cheers, parsnip

  10. @Norma: it seems a bit overdone with the Kennedy anniversary, but maybe that's just me.

    @Mari: it's often said that he wrote the whole thing on his way there, but that's not the case. He worked on it for awhile.

    @Meradeth: it hasn't really been registering too much attention, but I remembered back in July with the anniversary of the battle to do something like this in November.

    @Shelly: thank you!

    @Lynn: I've got a book with his speeches. Amazing writing ability, a naturally gifted speaker.

  11. @Krisztina: I did hear they were having commemorations, including the swearing in of sixteen new citizens, the same number as his place in line of presidents.

    @Diane: you're welcome.

    @Grace: I think they're some of the finest words ever written.

    @Kelly: it's such a good speech to read. I've been listening to several different versions lately. The one I went with was Jeff Daniels.

    @Parsnip: I really have to go through these places myself.

  12. Thank you, William, for this beautiful tribute to our greatest president. One of the nice things about living near D. C. is access to our national monuments. The Lincoln Memorial never ceases to inspire. But I wish there had been more media coverage of Lincoln's speech (and all it entailed) and less of the conspiracy talk around JFK's assignation.

  13. My son dressed up as Lincoln for a Halloween Party and he won a dance contest. Quite a tribute I'd say!


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