Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: Relevant but ignored

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., November 19, 2012 – Seven score and nine years ago, President Abraham Lincoln brought forth on this continent an address he believed the world would little note. Yet, that very address in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was to become the standard against which all political speeches thereafter would be measured. Those 278 words still resonate with those who love this country, and they provide guidance for our current troubled times that pale in comparison to what our great Nation was facing on November 19, 1863.

“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,” the speech began.

We sometimes seem to forget that our Nation was “conceived in Liberty;” a concept that gives rise to the fact that individual rights were paramount. Our Founding Fathers were offering the world a new choice: a Nation in which the Government would work to preserve the rights of its citizens rather than one in which the citizens worked to preserve the power of the Government.

In contrast, we have become increasingly dependent upon our Government; allowing our Government to grow in power at the cost of individual Liberty. To add insult to injury, we pay to have it done.

We also seem to bear false witness to the fact that our Nation was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Our political parties prefer to ignore that particular proposition because it is at odds with their best interests. If everyone was provided with an equal opportunity and our country was to become more of a meritocracy, it would diminish the power of the parties. It would reward individual choice and serve as a catalyst for others to chase their dreams and pursue their own destinies rather than rely on the promises of the parties.

Instead, the parties reinforce differences to preserve their constituencies. That is why their rhetoric is framed around race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, education, economic status, etc. It divides people into categories that can more readily be controlled by the suggestion that such categories’ members are not being treated equally.

President Lincoln then stated: “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 battlefield 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.”

By contrast, we are now engaged in a great civil discord. Unlike the war that President Lincoln was describing, 620,000 lives won’t be lost nor will 412,000 people be wounded in the fictional confrontations the parties are orchestrating, but our Liberty is every bit as much at stake.

The parties prefer to fight imaginary “wars” that are again devised to fracture the electorate. The “War on Women,” the “War on Catholics,” the “War on Education,” etc.… you get the idea; all devised to polarize political support that translates into money and votes.

President Lincoln’s next words provide a more appropriate perspective of our current struggles.

“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.”

These words should remind us of all who have fought in the past to preserve our Rights as well as all who currently serve our Nation in this same capacity. We would be wise to learn to question the coincidence of military decisions that seem to parallel election cycles (i.e., a troop surge near the 2010 mid-term election; a troop reduction near the 2012 Presidential election; a proposed troop withdrawal near the 2014 mid-term election; etc.). These brave individuals have “consecrated” our Liberty, and it should be “far above our poor power to detract” from their sacrifice on our behalf.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here,” President Lincoln added without a grain of self-indulgence. Compare and contrast that with the pontifications of many of our political leaders today, who must collectively suffer from “I-strain” from their overuse of that particular pronoun.

In conclusion, President Lincoln added: “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.”

We, too, should be dedicated to continuing the “unfinished work” for which so many have fought. Rather than ignoring our responsibilities by failing to pursue rational solutions to our Nation’s most pressing issues, we should be “dedicated to the task remaining before us.”

We should no longer tolerate excuses. We should no longer tolerate blame. We should no longer tolerate burdening future generations with our failure. Most importantly, we should no longer tolerate abandoning the principles upon which our great Nation was founded just to satiate the political expediencies of the parties.

If we follow this path, President Lincoln will have been proven to have been correct in his final analysis. “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.” Lincoln is more than a Steven Spielberg movie or a Bill O’Reilly book. We should pay attention to what he said and how he said it nearly a century and a half ago.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A President for the People, in the Communities section of The Washington Times.