Gettysburg Address fueled immigrant hopes of freedom

Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg

The only known photograph of President Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863. The president is the thin, bearded, balding man at center, ensconced ambiguously by the crowd. PHOTO: Smithsonian

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered this day in 1863:

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon 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.

In an era of long orations, the concise language of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was shocking. Many initially through the president had whiffed at this key moment in history, until the words sunk in and became inspiration for progress over several generations to come.

Your grandfather’s grandfather might have been alive at this time. If they didn’t hear about the Gettysburg Address in an American newspaper, they might have read it in another language, decades before their sons and daughters came to America, where their parents read that people were free.

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