I recently listened to the Gettysburg Address, and I wanted to point out and comment some of the passages, which stood out for me, and I think serves as a good message to all Americans now, but perhaps more poignantly to congressional Republicans. First,
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.(emphasis added)
“Conceived in liberty” means several things, but I want to home in on one—namely, the idea and belief that people can govern themselves, not depend on a strongman ruler–that a society and nation could survive and thrive under this approach. I believe people around the world were skeptical that such a nation could survive, and the Civil War seemed like the moment that might finally vindicate these skeptics. I think this is what Lincoln was getting at when he speaks about “testing” whether such a nation can “long endure.” In my view, we’re facing another test now—specifically, the constraints that prevent the abuse of power by the executive. These constraints are essential for a free people—free to live and think and govern themselves. They seem to be eroding quickly.
The second idea—that all people are created equal—seems to be facing a challenge as well. For example, I get the impression that a sizable number of the President’s supporters seem to think that white Christian Americans are more American–more authentically American–than non-white, non-Christian Americans. There is also the matter of black Americans being treated as if they have less value in our society.
What kind of government, what kind of country do we want going forward? And will that government continue to be the one that was conceived in liberty and based on the principle that all men were created equal? Lincoln’s last two sentences dovetail with these questions:
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 here 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.
Again, I feel like Lincoln is speaking to us—“the living”—now. Are we going to be “dedicated” and “highly resolved” that those who died at Gettysburg, and in the entire Civil War—as well as those who died later in subsequent wars—will have not died in vain. What they did was nobly advance the democratic experiment. Are we going to protect and sustain it, or will it perish on our watch?