Gettsburg – 150 Years Later

I hope the way I perceive myself is not too different than what others see in me. I see myself as a pretty unassuming guy, but others may see me as arrogant, etc. I can’t say I wake up every night thinking about it though.

What got me thinking about this during my morning coffee and reading ritual was an article by Bob Green describing the Forgotten Gettysburg Addresser, Edward Everett. He was the keynote speaker at the dedication of the battlefield in 1863. July 1st will be the 150th anniversary of the battle, thus the reflection on the event.

Everett had been the President of Harvard, member of the House of Representatives, U.S. Senator, Governor of Massachusetts, U.S. Secretary of State, and the minister to Great Britain; quite a resume, one that even today would ensure that a dynamic keynote speech would probably result.

Everett did not disappoint. As Greene notes, “He nailed it. He had prepared meticulously. He had researched and recreated in lovely yet searing language the facts and meanings of the Battle of Gettysburg. He spoke for two hours, and used all of his considerable skills to mesmerize the audience. He would have been justly confident in believing that the first words of his address would go down in history.”

What were those words? All we hear about today are the words that President Lincoln spoke. Everett said, “Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors od the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the silence of God and nature.” Great words, but they are not the words we remember today. In fact, this is the first time I have ever read Everett’s words.

In modern times, would we give a speaker two hours to entertain us? We’d give in to a visual event for two hours, but not someone who is just speaking to us, so kudos to him for being able to keep an audience’s attention for two hours. But, what Lincoln did in three minutes is what we remember.

Lincoln begins with “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.” Powerful and succinct; it grabs our attention. I want to listen.

Then there is a sense of humility. “But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate –we cannot consecrate – we can only hallow this ground.” Men gave their lives for what they believed in. “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.” And what they did motivated a resolve “that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Wow, how powerful are these words?

Lincoln was a man developed by a life of hard work and humility. He was born in a log cabin, he experienced several losing campaigns, but he eventually became President of the United States. He is a success story, but one laced with humility. I am not saying that Everett was arrogant, I have no idea what type of man he was, but the speech that emerged from the mind of Lincoln was a speech that came from the heart of a man who had learned many lessons in life. Lessons I hope I have learned and still want to learn even as an older man.

150 years ago, the young men of our country met on a battlefield determining the destiny of our country. Each generation adds to this illustrious rebirth by fighting for what it believes in. I love this country, even with all of its faults.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

 

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