Apologies, my drunken friends; this post is not about rum. Feel free to indulge, though; I’m no judging.
On an average day, I wear many different hats; I seem to keep collecting more as new and interesting things come into my life (some of them too premature to talk about right now). Today’s post comes to you courtesy of my amateur historian hat (which, for purposes of imagination, you an picture as a dusty brown bowler with a frayed silk band), which I possess thanks to several years of dedicated undergraduate coursework I’m not otherwise employing, though which has, over the years, filled my head with lots of interesting pieces of knowledge which has occasionally won me fame and fortune*.
One hundred and fifty-one years (and, as I write this, three hours or so) ago, the sixteenth US President delivered one of the most famous and influential pieces of oratory in the history of our Great American Experiment as part of a dedication ceremony of a battlefield cemetery in south central Pennsylvania. Ten sentences. Fewer than 300 words (give or take, depending on the version of the text you’re considering, and there are several slightly different drafts in circulation); an address most people present at its delivery actually missed thanks to a noisy photographer setting up his equipment; yet nonetheless is considered one of greatest experessions of the forensic arts ever delivered: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
(a note to pedants: this is the “Bliss Copy”, the most commonly reproduced version, and the one inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial)
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.
Elegant in its brevity. Ironic in historical hindsight given the seventh sentence. Perfectly appropriate for the situation, especially coming after mor than two hours of bombastic oratory by Edward Everett on a cold November morning. Solemn and inspiring.
Hard to imagine such a thing today, but one can continue to hope.
* – read as occasional trivia contest bragging rights and maybe a few extra credit points or a discounted drink coupon somewhere along the way.