Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Not perish

Was it really only 151 years ago today that Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of that cemetary, honoring the fallen soldiers who died in a war to keep in the Union a collection of states whose leaders committed treason in the name of states' rights as a political ideal and human slavery as an economic model? Time does fly.

Traditionally, we mark this day at p3 by noting that Lincoln used those 267 words to redefine a nation "conceived in liberty" (and the fetishization of states' rights) as instead one that's also "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" (and not just the white, propertied, and connected ones). Of course, it took another 50 years to work out that "men" included "women," and by that time slavery had been replaced by the American apartheid of Jim Crow (old times there are not forgotten – did you know that?), which took another 50 years to correct.

And now, in the age of the Roberts Court, Citizens United, and Mitt Romney (tanned, rested, and ready for 2016), that famous final line seems more often honored in the breach: The Congress that will be sworn in next January seems more aptly described as a government of Exxon, by Comcast, for JPMorgan Chase. And that's the same Roberts Court, by the way, that decided that the Voting Rights Act no longer needs an enforcement mechanism because racism is over and Republican-controlled states would never spend the next two years finding ways to legally suppress black (and brown, and senior, and student) votes.

Well, if nothing else, it is a beautifully crafted little piece, hearkening back to a day when when the rhetorical models were Homer and the King James Bible, rather than the bumper sticker.

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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