On this date (November 19) in 1863, Abraham Lincoln gave perhaps the greatest speech in American History, the Gettysburg Address. The text of the speech is short, less than 300 words, a fitting reminder to contemporary politicians that, sometimes, the most succinct speeches are the most meaningful.
Perhaps the brevity of Lincoln’s remarks can be explained by the only inaccuracy in the Gettysburg Address: namely the assertion that “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here….” In Lincoln’s view, it was the actions of the brave soldiers who fought rather than his rhetoric which conveyed the appropriate message.
In this speech, Lincoln aptly summarized the first principles of our founders. First, he argued that America was dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, meaning that they are endowed with equal rights by their Creator – thus the statement that America was “conceived in liberty.” Second, Lincoln asserted that we must devote ourselves to protecting “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” By this, he meant that we must defend the American tradition of self-government by republican and constitutional institutions.
The Civil War was fought to ensure that a country founded on these ideas could “long endure.” Today, our first principles are under assault from a long tradition of progressivism which tramples on the equal rights of the individual and undermines republican government, seeking to replace it with an unaccountable bureaucratic state.
It is up to us to study the wisdom of our founding principles, and to dedicate ourselves to the always-unfinished work of defending our American heritage of liberty and self-government. Those who have sacrificed so much more in the past to save our first principles deserve nothing less than our full effort in these present struggles.