Saturday, November 19, 2011

"The people" -- remember them?

One hundred forty-eight years ago today, Abraham Lincoln picked up American political discourse and placed it on another track: His dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg honored an America “conceived in liberty,” to be sure, but also one “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

The previous fifty years had amply shown that a nation concerned merely (!) with liberty (and the attendant worship of states' rights) wasn't enough; it must also dedicate itself to the opportunity of all its citizens (and not just, for example, to that of the wealthiest and best-connected of its citizens -- or of its citizen-like contract-based life-forms).

It's 267 words long, and takes about two minutes to read it first to last. Seriously. Go for it.
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.

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