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Now He Belongs to the Ages

Abraham Lincoln
Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com

Abraham Lincoln

By Herald Staff

In 1968, the federal government, in its infinite wisdom, consolidated Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays into a single federal holiday known as Presidents Day. Lincoln’s birthday was never a paid federal holiday, although it was recognized and celebrated in several states. The consolidation of the separate Washington’s birthday holiday with Lincoln’s birthday allowed Americans to honor the two men, who rank as our top presidents in every poll that has dealt with such rankings. 

Abraham Lincoln, born Feb. 12, 1809, was just 56 when he died in 1865 after being shot at Ford’s Theater in Washington. In that short life, Lincoln preserved our national union at its point of greatest peril. He did so while also recommitting the nation to its highest ideals. Nowhere is this more clearly accomplished than in his short remarks at the dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Nov. 19, 1863. 

Lincoln was not the main speaker for the dedication ceremony. That honor fell to Edward Everett, who gave a two-hourlong oration on the battle fought there almost five months prior. The program for the ceremony listed “Remarks by the President of the United States” below Everett’s speech  

In just 271 words, Lincoln gave one of the most lasting statements of our national purpose. For those of us from a certain generation, it was a speech we were required to memorize in school. In it, Lincoln saw the famous battle at Gettysburg as a test of the nation’s endurance and its commitment to values of liberty, equality, and self-government.  

Lincoln was a pragmatist. He knew well that the nation, in its actions, often fell short of its ideals. Yet, it was those ideals that sets us off from most other nations of the world. We are, and Lincoln saw this clearly, a nation defined by what we aspire to be. 

In his words, we were “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” At the time of his speech, the war still raged, “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.”  

That war of which he spoke was the most destructive conflict ever fought on American soil. It claimed more American lives than any conflict in our history with the single exception of World War II.  

 Speaking of the fallen at Gettysburg, Lincoln noted, “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.” He spoke of the “great task remaining before us.”  

Lincoln stated that task in words that have become part of our national being, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 

It was a call for unity, for a recommitment to national purpose, and for a rededication to principles for which so many of our brethren have given “the last full measure of devotion.”  

Lincoln was speaking of more than just the sacrifice of those who died in a specific battle in a specific war. He was calling on Americans to remember their unique purpose, a purpose that overrides our differences.  

Lincoln’s address speaks to us today with as much relevance as it had in 1863. That is why it joins the Declaration of Independence as a statement of national purpose.  

On the morning of April 15, 1865, Lincoln lay dying from an assassin’s bullet lodged in the right side of his head. He drew his last breath at 7:22 that morning in a boarding house bedroom across the street from Ford’s Theater.  

Secretary of War Edward Stanton’s epitaph has come down to us – “Now he belongs to the ages.”  

At this time, as some of us take a moment to remember this man of the ages, we could do no better than to reread his short remarks from the dedication of a cemetery and the rededication of a nation. 

Gettysburg Address 

By President Abraham Lincoln 

Delivered at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery at the scene of the Battle of Gettysburg of the American Civil War on November 19, 1863. 

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 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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From the Bible:   Jesus Christ said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you.” John 13:34 

 

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