President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address remains among the most recognized and inspiring statements of America’s purpose.
We often focus on Lincoln’s allusion to the Declaration of Independence and its ideals of equality or look forward with him to the global march of self-government.
Lincoln’s focus on that day 157 years ago — the hinge of his 10-sentence address — was on dedicating a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield “as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live.” Even then he acknowledged the limited power and effect of such remembrance, saying:
“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 hallowed it far above our poor power to add or detract.”
Yet, he placed the memory of those who died, as well America’s living veterans and those still serving, at the center of his address. Months later, when the war was nearly won, Lincoln continued this call during his second inaugural address, imploring Americans to “care for him who has borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”
Lincoln's eloquent tributes to our veterans, active duty military and their families are as important today as they ever have been. Each of us holds a unifying gratitude for the sacrifices of the men and women who put their lives on the line in order to defend our freedoms.
But remembering was not enough for Lincoln, because it was not enough for those who sacrificed. He went on to say:
“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 the 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, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
America is currently facing trying times. We remain in the grips of a global pandemic, and our politics are more divided than they’ve been since the 1960s. Even still, we all have a joint responsibility to honor and live out Lincoln’s words and never forget those who died so that we could continue to live in a country that demands “liberty and justice for all.”
As America approaches its 250th birthday, the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission, of which I am honored to be a member, will begin the process of establishing programs and events that celebrate the history and ideals upon which our nation was founded. These programs, which will stress the words, actions and legacies of our Founding Fathers and great Americans like Lincoln, will serve to encourage our nation to come together in rededication to our core American ideals. It also will honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending these ideals.
America remains a shining city upon a hill — a free society that is the envy of the world. It is my hope that in the coming years, our nation’s semiquincentennial can be a driving force in healing divisions and reminding all Americans that there is much more that unites than divides us.
This month when we mark Veterans Day, and at Gettysburg where we observe Dedication Day, we encourage our nation to come together in rededication to these American ideals. As members of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission, guiding the overall program for the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the United States, we call on our fellow Americans to join us in a November salute of gratitude to our veterans, active duty military and their families. As we acknowledge their service and sacrifice, let us also continue, together, the unfinished work of liberty and justice for all.
Republican Pat Toomey represents Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate.