The nation observes the anniversary of its independence this week along with another significant milestone – the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Together, they reinforce an indomitable spirit of freedom and higher purpose that continues today.
Strident voices on both ends of the political spectrum are eager to suggest that both our spirit and purpose are at risk. They point to news that the National Security Agency was collecting data on millions of Americans; of the IRS targeting tea party groups; of the Justice Department seizing journalists’ phone records.
The disclosures are troubling, no doubt, but they must be viewed in perspective.
On a bloody battlefield 150 years ago this week, 51,000 soldiers died when the Army of the Potomac faced invading Confederate troops near Gettysburg, Pa. It was a turning point in the war, literally preserving the union forged four score and seven years earlier in Philadelphia.
The events are linked most famously in President Abraham Lincoln’s seminal address, delivered Nov. 19 at the dedication of a cemetery for those who perished at Gettysburg. In his brief remarks, he reminded the nation of its founding – of a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
From a battlefield still scarred by rifle pits, scraps of blue and gray uniforms, broken artillery wagons and fences, the president spoke words that resound today:
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 words served as a reminder and a charge – a reminder of the willingness of those who died at Gettysburg to give their lives for a young nation; a charge to preserve the aims of the Founding Fathers. The principles they claimed in the Declaration of Independence served to preserve the union at its darkest hour. They endure today – as much lesser challenges arise – and continue to serve as a beacon.