In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln gave an address at the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield in order to reframe the cause of the Civil War. Of course, we all know of the eloquent 272-word Gettysburg Address that deserves its place as perhaps the most inspirational call to unite under a national purpose ever conceived.
He began “Four score and seven years ago” to denote the 87 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That was deliberate because it was the Declaration, not our Constitution, that stated “all men are created equal.” The Constitution, in fact, protected slavery with the notorious three-fifths compromise which counted three fifths of each state’s slave population. Even though slaves could not vote, this gave Southern states a third more representatives and electoral votes.
In only 10 sentences Lincoln turned the cause of the Civil War from preserving the Union toward the social justice this nation was predicated upon. He called this a “new birth of freedom” and gave the Union the cause of America’s greatest promise.
Today we are engaged in a new civil war. Not of American soldier against American soldier on bloody battlefields, but a war on civility where we are entrenched in the warfare of words used to bloody the very nature of our being. An ideological civil war where a confederacy of populists have seceded from reason and have challenged a union of social reforms they see as inflexible and contrary to their world view.
This war uses the internet as a cannon, the media as a long rifle and rhetoric as sabers to humiliate and annihilate our commonalities.
We have seen what an angry mob of privileged citizens from this war will do. With claims of disenfranchisement and fueled by false information, an insurrection was mounted against the very principles that Lincoln phrased to unite us with a moral cause. This uprising was not an anomaly to be filed away as only a footnote in our history. It was the inevitable result of a loss of moral justice and forgetting what men and women had died for to preserve.
As Lincoln stood on consecrated ground to honor those who fought bravely for “a government of the people, by the people and for the people” so that it would not “perish from this earth,” we must in this century remember our purpose just the same. We must again find the self-evident truths from our founding decree that “all (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The civil war we are facing is tearing us apart again. And the best of America can perish unless we become inspired to fulfill our founding promise: to live together as a nation dedicated to the unalienable rights that belong to us all.
With every holiday season there is hope that we can do better. That we will redress those parts of our lives where we’ve led ourselves astray. Could we rededicate ourselves to social justice? Seven score and 18 years after Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?