Reliving the greatest two minutes in U.S. history

Craig Hall, Publisher
Craig Hall, Publisher

I wonder how many folks knew

Nov. 19 marked the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? Since Lincoln is my all-time favorite president, I celebrate his greatest speech every year at this time.

The Gettysburg Address offers the premier example of the dreams and beliefs our founding fathers had in terms of their abhorrence of the violent and degrading institution of slavery and their vision for all Americans to be free and equal and also forms the basis of what is known as American exceptionalism.

I realize it’s a convenient trend of the day for many to accuse our founding fathers of being slave-owning racists. That’s simply a naive point of view for those who’ve taken little time to research these great men. Also it’s important to recognize Lincoln’s attaching his greatest speaking achievement to the greatest document ever written outside of the books of the Bible: the Declaration of Independence.

Take yourself back in time to 1863 and stand on that most hallowed ground where so many gave their last full measure and hear the words:

“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.

“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 this 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.”

If you don’t have chills down your spine or tears in your eyes, I’d dare say you don’t know what the greatest country God put on this earth is all about.

The founding fathers indeed hated the peculiar institution of slavery, and they wrote things into the Constitution and passed laws to hasten it out of existence, something no other country in the civilized world had even considered. The fact is, by the time the Constitution was ratified, many states already had passed laws declaring slavery illegal. The founders knew a little something about giving the rest of the powers beyond the ones that limited our federal government in the Constitution to the states. They knew a godly people would reason that slavery needed to be abolished and they trusted the people to do just that.

When you put together what the states were doing along with such constitutional principles as the three-fifths compromise and laws outlawing the importation of slaves and slave markets, our founders were light years ahead of every other country on earth. And please leave your “the founders thought that black men were only three-fifths of a human being” argument at home. The three-fifths compromise was for population-based congressional representation only. The fact is, the compromise limited the power of the states where slavery was legal in terms of expansion or passing laws to protect slavery. Our founding fathers put into action the mechanisms that allowed this country to eradicate slavery literally within the first two generations of the U.S. becoming a country — a pretty radical idea at the time considering slavery was legal and had been practiced for thousands of years.

And while all of these laws did indeed push our country toward outlawing of slavery, they obviously weren’t enough. Sadly, it took the Civil War to finally push slavery into the dust bin of our history. And the untold number of American men and women who gave their last full measure to accomplish slavery’s demise should end all conversations about how the issue of slavery should never be made the center of any conversation on this great nation ever again. Too many gave all to eliminate it.

I’ve stood in the middle of that great battleground in Gettysburg in my younger years, and even at that age I could feel the presence of the greatness of those men. And yes, under God, I firmly believe that this great nation will not perish from this earth.