Lincoln at Gettysburg: A legacy that still shines

150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech in the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Though he was not the featured speaker of the day – the famed orator Edward Everett had that honor – Lincoln was there to commemorate a battle that proved to be a turning point in the Civil War, and he gave us a sacred tome that has helped define the great American civil religion ever since.

Abraham_Lincoln_head_on_shoulders_photo_portraitIt took him a mere 272 words to re-consecrate our wounded nation – to remind us that no matter where we come from, what we do, or what we believe in, we are bound together by a shared heritage and common hopes for the future – and that the beautiful country “conceived in liberty” by our founders, and defended through time at such great cost, can survive anything.

Though Lincoln humbly predicted that the world would “little note” what he and others said that autumn day, we know otherwise. His famous address reverberates through time and indeed still speaks volumes today. We would be well served to heed its message.

150 years later, in this bitter age of partisanship and division – when our political discourse has again veered far off course, and more attention is consistently drawn to our differences – let us be reminded of Lincoln’s poetic prayer:

“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…[so] 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.”

Scott D. Reich practices law at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and is the author of “The Power of Citizenship: Why John F. Kennedy Matters to a New Generation.” You can follow him on Twitter @ScottDReich.

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