February 12 marks the 201st birthday of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln governed our nation during arguably the most domestically tumultuous time in our nation's history. In the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln delivered one of the most famous presidential speeches in American history--the Gettysburg Address. On November 18, 1863, President Lincoln dedicated the Soliders' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania giving the following address:
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 battle-field 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 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. 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.
The picture shown above is the only known picture of Abraham Lincoln at the cemetery dedication (President Lincoln is spot shadowed in the photo). Historians suggest that photographer David Bachrach was prepared for President Lincoln to give a longer speech, as the previous speaker, Edward Everett, a former Secretary of State, had given a two hour speech. However, President Lincoln had perhaps heeded the words of Founding Father and former President, Thomas Jefferson, who said, " [t]he most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one word would suffice". One of the most famous and memorable speeches in American history took only a few minutes to deliver, yet its message has resonated with Americans for nearly 150 years.