The great battle had turned the tide of the war in the first three days of July 1863. But four months later, the dedication of a cemetery dealt with the reality of the Battle of Gettysburg, which left 23,055 Americans dead on the Union side and 23,231 Americans dead on the Confederate side.
Edward Everett, one of the finest orators of his time, solemnly marked the occasion with a magnificent, two-hour tribute to these young men who died before their prime.
He was a tough act to follow.
President Lincoln was up to the task, and in little more than two minutes, Lincoln summed up the cause our men died for by reminding the world just what makes our nation great, concluding:
"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."
Today marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's challenge to the nation. It would be another five score and one before the nation passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and began to achieve that "proposition that all men are created equal."
But the dedication was there all along and it was that dedication that made such an accomplishment possible. Not only has government of, by and for the people survived but America greatly expanded it and it is taking over the Earth.
The British Commonwealth over time moved to a constitutional monarchy in which the queen is a titular head of the state. Australia, Canada and other nations gained autonomy and adopted similar governments.
World War II and the Cold War resulted in European nations adopting the same style of government. India and South Korea are headed in that direction and Japan is already there.
The remarkable thing, 150 years later, is that
Lincoln spoke for so many Americans in his past, in his time, and in his future.
That is his gift — and our gift — to the world.