01 Sep Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America | Gary Wills
2018: Book #37
“…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.”
I love Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—the quote seen above is my favorite line from it.
Today, I finished, “Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America” by Garry Wills. This was not an easy read. I had to stop several times and look up the meaning of certain words. Equally, I had to pause and do research on Greek historical figures.
Wills creates a construct in which to place Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. He takes you through Greek speeches, the role of the Bible in the address and the influence of Transcendentalism. To say Wills holds the address in high esteem is an understatement. He writes,
“It is no greater exaggeration to say that all modern political prose descends from the Gettysburg Address.”
Some other notable quotes include the following:
“Thomas Jefferson had not. The very author of the Declaration continued to own slaves. Moreover, the Constitution countenanced slavery, and the Constitution, not the Declaration, is the working law of the land.”
Why is this important? Lincoln used the Declaration almost as law by quoting the document that said, “all men are created equal.”
The Gettysburg Address is a moon shot. The Address never mentions slavery, equality, North or South. Lincoln put the conflict of the nation in massive historical context. He looked beyond slavery and the war and saw a nation united as an example for a people who are self-governed.
Take a moment and read these important 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 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.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Every student of Lincoln should read this book. I had no idea there was debate as to the actual text and words of the address. Wills points out that of everyone present, two accounts by reporters—who represented two separate newspapers—are considered to be the most accurate.
Truly…5 out of 5 stars.
That’s book #37 for 2018.
15 more to go to reach 52 by the end of the year.
Remember, all leaders are readers.
If you want to be a better leader…be a reader.