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Fourscore and seven

Nov 20, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

The likes of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address rarely have been seen since

A hundred and fifty years ago this week, a newspaper in Harrisburg, Pa., which is that state's capital, described a speech made a few days earlier by the President of the United States as "silly remarks." The speech was meaningless, said the newspaper report, and deserved nothing more than "a veil of oblivion."

The speech in question was Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

It made national news last week when the same newspaper, now called the Patriot-News, officially and humorously apologized for giving the Gettysburg Address a bad review way back when.

It was a good attention-getting move by the paper, but the Harrisburg Patriot and Union, as it was called them, certainly was not alone at the time in failing to recognize both the eloquence and the significance of the remarks made by the president at the dedication of a new military cemetery at the site of the bloody and decisive Battle of Gettysburg earlier that year during the American Civil War.

A war was raging, and it could be argued that Lincoln had started it. Not only was he the commander in chief, but he was the nation's most famous politician in 1863. An election year was approaching, and his political opponents were almost rabid in their zeal to see him defeated for a second term. Imagine the political atmosphere in this country today were the tempestuous 2012 election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to have been contested against the backdrop of a war on our own soil. No wonder many opposing papers either blasted the speech or ignored it altogether.

Today, the fullness of time has allowed what Lincoln said to be recalled for what it really was -- the rare speech that linked past, present and future, uttered by a deftly skilled politician of his day who also was a statesman for the ages. Its like rarely has been heard since.

The speech's opening passage invokes the time of the American Revolution nearly 100 years before Lincoln spoke, reminding listeners what it meant to be a U.S. citizen. The middle sections properly memorialize the awful and momentous occurrence on that ground in Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863.

And its closing rallied a weary nation as to the stakes of the war, namely, the future of the United States of America as it was envisioned.

All in fewer than 300 words. That's enough to make an editorial writer blush.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, three years after his election, spoke at Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863. The occasion was the dedication of the new Soldiers National Cemetery.

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"Fourscore 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.

"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.

"But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

"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."

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MAIL SUBSCRIBERS: Tuesday's edition of The Ranger was delivered to the Riverton post office by 3:30 p.m., in time to meet the postal deadline for next-day mail delivery.

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