The Testing of America
On November 19, 1863, in the midst of a devastating civil war, President Abraham Lincoln explained the meaning of the war and the nation at the dedication of a military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Invited to give only "a few appropriate remarks," Lincoln wondered aloud if any nation "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" could "long endure." Only a successful defense of the nation by those committed to the freedom of all could honor those who had died for the American union and prove that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Because the freedom of most American slaves was declared on New Year's Day of 1863, the year of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was the Year of Jubilee for black Americans. But their freedom was not yet secure. The Civil War would drag on, and even its conclusion in favor of the American union did not immediately produce the equal protection of all promised by the Declaration of Independence. A century would pass before the promise of liberty would become a reality for all Americans regardless of race.
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.