For three hot days, from July 1 to July 3, 1863, more than 150,000 soldiers from the armies of the United States of America and the Confederate States of America slashed at each other in the hills and through the fields around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
We memorized this speech in grammar school. It still moves me by its simple elegance. America has been blessed by some of her leaders. Lincoln is one who moved US forward by reminding us who we are (to be).
I’ve been wondering, now that we see the results of having so many misinformed or uninformed federal officials, if it wouldn’t be prudent to require folks running for federal office to take a test, allowing the public to see if the folks who are running adequately understand the Constitution as well as basic governmental norms that keep the government operational. And maybe it would allow the American citizenry be better informed about who is truly “fit for office”.
The Gettysburg Address is one of the most beautiful and profound prayers ever uttered. I still get chills every time I read it.
Thank you, Dr. R! Your letters help us work to keep our government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people. Wishing you another good night’s sleep.
Without a doubt, the address that Lincoln gave at Gettysburg sets out goals and aspirations that we must struggle to achieve even now and actually particularly now. You have likened and the period we are in now to the period of 1850 and I do not doubt your assessment. I believe we are in an existential crisis and the choice is fascism versus democracy. It is every bit important as the decision of slavery versus free men and women.
It is my fervent hope that in the next election Americans vote overwhelmingly for democracy, but in the event fascism wins the election, we must have a plan in place to begin to fight what Trump and his minions have planned to end American democracy.
It is a long time since I personally have taken to the streets, but it could come to that. What was occurring on the streets of Israel before October 7 could well be what we need to look forward to should the people choose fascism. Democracy will triumph in the end but we will value it all the more if we have to fight for it.
No great grandstand, no bunting, just a simple man standing in the midst of a crowd, uttering a few simple sentences that defined a nation. Words so powerful and pure that will endure forever!
I am in the middle of listening to Dark Money, by Jane Mayer (at your recommendation Professor Richardson), and reading your letter tonight brought me to the brink of tears. How far we have come, and how little we really seem to have accomplished. I am hopeful that we can hang on to this fragile democracy as envisioned by our founders and fought for by so many.
Evening to All---
For the bulk of my life, irrespective of my sharing in the honor that all Americans exude upon reading or hearing the Gettysburg Address, I never gave much thought to the "unfinished work" Lincoln spoke of as anything beyond his time. Well, you live and learn.
The unfinished work we now realize, as inheritors of the great American Experiment, is an obligation we all have to bear, one way or another.
In the denouement of the great Stanley Kubrick movie "Spartacus", in an effort to protect their eponymous leader, the slaves of the Roman Empire all stood up individually, to call out, "I'm Spartacus!"
We are all Spartacus, in that we all have an obligation to work in whatever way our talents and capacity allow us, to further the freedom and dignity of our fellow Americans, irrespective of race, gender, economic status, sexual orientation, religion, etc., etc.
We are all Cincinnatus, in that we all have an obligation to drop the implements of our daily lives and routines, to a certain extent, so as to take up the greater and more noble obligations that our community of free men and women call upon us to meet.
We are all Tom Joads, bearing difficult witness to the suffering of our families, in both the narrow nuclear connotation of that word, as well as the broadest and most widespread, knowing that "we'll be there" with them, and knowing that in our Country, there is no "them" there is only "US".
Our unfinished work as Americans is not simply to stand firm against the forces that would hurl us regressively backward with vulgarity and viciousness, but to keep our progress moving ever forward, from sea to shining sea. To fight against gerrymandering and voter suppression, so that our government is "of the people"; To insure that our right to vote is fully available and protected, not bought off ala Citizens United, so that our government is "by the people"; And to campaign long, loud and with love abounding so that our rights are ever evolving and expanding with the vicissitudes borne by the necessities of our age, so that our government is "for the people".
When he exhorted the Americans of his time to strive so that our Democracy would not "perish from this earth", Lincoln could not have known that a time would come when the earth itself would start to perish beneath its human inhabitants. That time is upon us as well, making our challenges even more difficult, but even more necessary.
Are we all on board?
Wow... November 19, 1863... almost 100 years to the day before President Kennedy was assassinated. 😢
We had great leadership in both Lincoln and Kennedy in my opinion. Lincoln saved the nation from self destruction and Kennedy showed us we could do “the impossible” (land on the Moon) within ten years of saying we would do so.
Of course, a house divided against itself cannot fulfill any such future dreams. I hope my fellow Americans realize how critically important it is that the forces seeking to end democracy be defeated in next years’ selection. Those forces don’t just want a divided nation. They want an intellectually dead one.
But back to Lincoln, here is a link to Jason Robards reading the Gettysburg Address. This was part of a Lincoln documentary broadcast on PBS in 1992. It's a wonderful documentary overall. Enjoy!
My great grandfather settled in Minnesota before the Civil War and was part of a community that hid slaves who escaped via the Mississippi River. He wrote to a friend that he would give his life to defend freedom for those escapees. When the war came, he was too old to fight, though his son did and returned safely.
The history of the US is amazing, and not studied enough or understood completely. Today's politicians, one would think, would benefit from knowing that history. That simple fact could likely make being in that business easier... to know and understand the Constitution alone would make most of the shenanigans practiced by the Congressional MAGApublicans appear as frivilous and dangerously comical as is. Prof. Richardson, your work at bringing the nation's history to the forefront is powerful. Now if only the pubilications and media popular with the far-right mindless sector would repeat your Letters................
Thank you, Heather. Always a beautiful reminder of how WONDERFUL our leaders can be. This mends my heart, actually. I think Lincoln could not believe his eyes if he were here today, witnessing the torching of democracy by many in power.
Thank you Professor. Breaks my heart.
“…and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…” With Lincoln “Self-evident” becomes a “proposition” for good reason. And, under Trump II it will become “fake news”.
💔💔💔Will we or will we not honor those who have given their lives for this nation?
Please republish this piece every year at this time. Maybe Lincoln's ideas will become more universally accepted.