Friday, November 19, 2010

Anniversary of Gettysburg Address

The 147th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address is as good a time as any to reflect on the 273 words (more or less, depending on the version) in the speech that Abraham Lincoln gave at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, PA on November 19, 1863. With more than 7,500 killed, Gettysburg became hallowed ground in that crucial engagement. The speech took a mere two minutes to deliver but these eloqent words still resound today:
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 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.

This video from the Library of Congress explains more about the speech.

A related law review article, C. Steven Bradford, The Gettysburg Address as Written by Law Students Taking an Exam, 86 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1094 (1992), is timely as Brooklyn Law School students begin the reading and exam period after the Thanksgiving break. The classic exam mistakes that Prof. Bradford lists in his parody offer a little study break reading. The article is available on HeinOnline.

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