Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

November 24, 2013

Heed Lincoln’s words, advice

— — Nov. 19 marked the 150th anniversary of one of the most famous speeches in American history.

Four and a half months after the Battle of Gettysburg in which there were 23,055 Union and 23,231 Confederate casualties and losses, Abraham Lincoln journeyed to the town in south-central Pennsylvania where the historic three-day battle took place.

The occasion was the dedication of the national cemetery honoring the Union soldiers who were buried therein. It was an historic event not only because of the reason for the gathering, but the fact that the president of the United States was going to address the public.

In the early days of the country it was rare when the president would speak directly to the people. Campaigning was done in those days by seconds and it was not until the campaign of 1860 that a presidential candidate hit the trail on his own behalf, that being none other than Abraham Lincoln. While George Washington and John Adams addressed Congress for their State of the Union messages, Thomas Jefferson did not, preferring to send a written message and that tradition continued for many years.

So for President Lincoln to address a public gathering was just as historic at that time as was the dedication of the cemetery to honor those killed in the country’s largest loss of life at war.

As a fact, the president was not even the headliner for the event. That honor went to one of the leading poets of the day, Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours!

President Lincoln then rose, removed his handwritten remarks from his hat and began:

“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 battlefield 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.”

The entire address consisted of 10 sentences and took about two minutes to deliver. Today, 150 years later, those words are still as powerful as they were on that November day in Gettysburg and we need to heed them and apply them to our situation today.

While we are not in an armed conflict among Americans, we are a nation that is divided and that divide appears to be growing wider.

If we are to insure that those who fought at Gettysburg and later in the trenches of World War I, in the European and Pacific theaters of World War II, on Pork Chop Hill in Korea, in the jungles of Vietnam, the desert of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan did not die in vain, we must remember the words and advice of Abraham Lincoln.

One hundred years and three days after the Gettysburg Address, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Many of you reading this column may recall where you were when you heard the news. I was not born until nine months and 13 hours after President Kennedy died, but his legacy lives and as we should heed the words of President Lincoln from 150 years ago, we should also remember the president who was taken from us 50 years ago.

In his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961, JFK made the remark for which he is probably most remembered, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Today too many of us are eager to seek what others can do for us rather than giving out that helping hand. President Kennedy’s words challenged Americans to take action rather than waiting for someone else to have the initiative.

It was that challenge that led him in a later speech in his presidency to challenge the nation to place a man on the moon. And it happened — though some believe it was all done on a sound stage in Hollywood.

All of us regardless of different religious, political and cultural differences are passengers on a ship called the United States. In order to keep this ship afloat we need to remember the advice from two presidents who had their lives taken too soon because they were bold enough to stand up for right.

Bob Redd is a sports writer for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bredd@bdtonline.com.

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