GETTYSBURG, Pa. — On the Civil War battlefield where President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech that symbolized his presidency and the sacrifices made by Union and Confederate forces, thousands gathered Tuesday, historians and everyday Americans alike, to ponder what the Gettysburg Address has meant to the nation.
The event comes near the end of a momentous year for the park, city and college that share the name Gettysburg, as hundreds of thousands of visitors took part in historical re-enactments and ceremonies.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was first delivered nearly five months after the major battle that left tens of thousands of men wounded, dead or missing.
The short oration, which begins, “Four score and seven years ago,” was intended to mark the dedication of the cemetery at the site of the pivotal battle. But it also came as Lincoln’s own reasons for fighting the Civil War were evolving. He spoke of how democracy itself rested upon “the proposition that all men are created equal,” a profound and politically risky statement for the time. Slavery and the doctrine of states’ rights would not hold in the “more perfect union” of Lincoln’s vision.
It was not immediately recognized as a towering literary achievement. Just last week, The Patriot-News in nearby Harrisburg retracted a dismissive editorial about the speech published by its Civil War-era predecessor, The Harrisburg Patriot & Union. The newspaper now says it regrets the error of not seeing its “momentous importance, timeless eloquence and lasting significance.”
The ideals expressed in the speech also weren’t necessarily a reflection of reality. Only a few years after the war, a separate cemetery for black Civil War veterans was created in Gettysburg because they were “denied burial in the National Cemetery because of segregation policies,” according to a historical marker placed in 2003.
The annual Remembrance Day Parade in Gettysburg will be held Saturday, featuring Union and Confederate re-enactors who will lay wreaths at the portions of the battlefield their units defended.
An estimated 235,000 people came to Gettysburg this year on or around the battle’s anniversary in July.
The National Park Service is streaming Tuesday’s ceremony live to 90,000 colleges, schools, libraries and museums nationwide.
The following is the text of the Gettysburg Address, as delivered by President Abraham Lincoln on Nov. 19, 1863, and transmitted by The Associated Press 150 years ago:
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. (Applause.) 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 are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of 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 to detract. (Applause.) The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here. (Applause.) It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried on. (Applause.) It is rather for us here to be 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 the dead shall not have died in vain. (Applause.) That the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (Long applause.)