Fortnight For Freedom
On July 4, 1864 Abraham Lincoln had much to pre-occupy his mind. Grant’s drive on Richmond had bogged down into a stalemated siege to the south of Richmond around the city of Petersburg. Grant, due to the appalling Union casualties of the campaign, was routinely denounced as a butcher in Northern newspapers, a charge echoed privately by Mary Todd Lincoln. On June 27 Sherman had been bloodily repulsed at Kennesaw Mountain, and his campaign against Atlanta appeared to be very much in doubt. Lincoln suspected that he would not be re-elected and that the Union might very well lose the war. So what did he do on July 4? He, along with Mrs. Lincoln and most of his cabinet, attended a fundraiser held on the White House lawn to build a Catholic church!
Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!
Senator Jefferson Smith, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
In our struggles for liberty today, we are part of a long and proud American tradition, something that Abraham Lincoln reminded the country of almost 156 years ago:
These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men 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.” This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children’s children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began — so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built.
Abraham Lincoln, August 17, 1858
On September 30, 1859 Lincoln made another speech which I think is very apropos to our time: Continue reading
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, go here to read the decision, rested upon the Court’s interpretation of this section of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993:
a) In general
As we approach the Fourth of July we celebrate American independence and the liberties we enjoy. Independence was won on the battlefield. Was the American Revolution a just war is therefore a question that should be asked and answered.
Based on the just war doctrine first enunciated by Saint Augustine, I believe the American Revolution was a just war.
Over the centuries the precise content of the just war doctrine has varied. The classic definition of it by Saint Thomas Aquinas is set forth in Part II, Question 40 of his Summa Theologica:
“I answer that, In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Rm. 13:4): “He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil”; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Ps. 81:4): “Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner”; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 75): “The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.”
Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (Questions. in Hept., qu. x, super Jos.): “A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”
Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. [*The words quoted are to be found not in St. Augustine's works, but Can. Apud. Caus. xxiii, qu. 1]): “True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.” For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 74): “The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.”
The most recent formulation of the Just War doctrine for the Church is set forth in the Catechism at 2309: Continue reading
During the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, both Lincoln and Douglas, in addition to their joint appearances at the debates, gave many separate speeches. On the evening of July 10, 1858, Lincoln gave a speech in the evening in Chicago. During the course of that speech he touched upon why we celebrate the Fourth of July.
Now, it happens that we meet together once every year, sometime about the 4th of July, for some reason or other. These 4th of July gatherings I suppose have their uses. If you will indulge me, I will state what I suppose to be some of them.
We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty—or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,—with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,—we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. [Applause.] Continue reading
Something for the weekend. I loved these schoolhouse rock videos when they were first broadcast back in the Seventies right before the bicentennial. Among a fair number of kids I knew they sparked an interest in history. Of the videos, I believe No More Kings has the catchiest tune. For a cartoon, The Shot Heard Round the World does a fairly good job of conveying information about the Revolution in a very short span of time: it manages to include the opening battles of the war, Washington as the central figure of the war, the role of the militia, the endurance of the Continentals, the battle of Trenton, Valley Forge, the frequent defeats of the Americans, the importance of diplomacy and foreign intervention, and the decisive victory at Yorktown. Fireworks is a nice opening view of the Declaration for kids. If readers have kids, or if, like me, part of them has never really grown up, watching these cartoons can be a good way to get into the Fourth of July spirit! Continue reading
America has been blessed by God in many ways but I suspect no blessing has been greater than His granting us George Washington to lead us in our struggle for independence and to be our first President. Catholics have perhaps more reason than other Americans to keep the memory of Washington alive in our hearts. In a time of strong prejudice against Catholics in many parts of the colonies he was free from religious bigotry as he demonstrated on November 5, 1775 when he banned the anti-Catholic Guy Fawkes celebrations.
“As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope – He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.”
Order in Quarters, November 5, 1775
– George Washington
This stand against anti-Catholicism was not unusual for Washington. Throughout his life Washington had Catholic friends, including John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the US. He would sometimes attend Mass, as he did during the Constitutional Convention when he led a delegation of the Convention to attend Mass in Philadelphia as he had attended Protestant churches in that town during the Covention. This sent a powerful signal that under the Constitution Catholics would be just as good Americans as Protestant Americans.
Washington underlined this point in response to a letter from prominent Catholics, including Charles and John Carroll, congratulating him on being elected President: Continue reading
And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
George Washington, Farewell Address
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, as he signed his name when he added his signature to the Declaration of Independence, was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. When he died at the age of 95, he was the last of the Signers to depart this vale of tears.
The scion of perhaps the richest family in the colonies, Charles Carroll was initially uninterested in politics and, in any case, was debarred by his religion from participating in politics in his native Maryland by his religion. However, in his thirties he became a passionate advocate of American independence from Great Britain and quickly became one of the chief leaders of the Patriot cause in his home colony. It was only natural as a result that he was sent to Congress, in spite of his religion, where he was one of the chief spokesmen for independence and happily placed his signature on the Declaration even though by doing so he risked not only his fortune but his life if the British had prevailed.
Two stories are told about him signing the document. Supposedly he initially signed as Charles Carroll. A member of Congress, who disliked Carroll because of his Catholicism, sneered, saying how would the British know which Charles Carroll had signed, this being a common name. Carroll then angrily took up his quill pen and appended “of Carrollton” to his signature. I love this story, but alas it is unlikely. Charles Carroll had been adding “of Carrollton” to his signature for years prior to the Revolution, a reference to his Manor known as Carrollton. Additionally, as one of the richest men in the colonies, it is unlikely that the British government would have had any confusion as to which Charles Carroll had signed his name.
The second story is much more likely to be true, as fond of gallows humor as the Founding Fathers tended to be. When he signed his name one of the other members of Congress said, “There goes several millions!”.
By the end of 1776 the revolutionary government of Maryland had issued an act of religious freedom, and Carroll and his fellow Catholics in Maryland enjoyed the same civil rights as Protestants.
In 1778 he returned to Maryland and helped draft the state constitution and in setting up the new state government, serving in the State Senate until 1800, and briefly in the United States Senate.
A slaveholder, throughout his career Carroll spoke and wrote of slavery as an evil that must come to an end as soon as possible. He attempted, but failed, to have Maryland implement a plan of gradual emancipation. At the age of 91 he took on the task of being president of the Auxiliary State Colonization Society of Maryland, part of a national movement to have free blacks voluntarily colonize what would become Liberia in Africa.
Throughout his life his two main passions were the American Revolution and his Faith. Like most of the Founding Fathers he regarded the idea of political liberty divorced from sound morality, derived from religion, as an absurdity. He set forth his ideas on this subject in a letter to Secretary of War James McHenry in 1800 in which he lamented the then current American political scene:
These events will be hastened by the pretended philosophy of France; divine revelation has been scoffed at by the Philosophers of the present day, the immortality of the soul treated as the dreams of fools, or the invention of knaves, & death has been declared by public authority an eternal sleep; these opinions are gaining ground amongst us & silently saping the foundations of religion & encouragement of good, the terror of evildoers and the consolation of the poor, the miserable, and the distressed. Remove the hope & dread of future reward & punishment, the most powerful restraint on wicked action, & ye strongest inducement to virtuous ones is done away. Virtue, it may be said, is its own reward; I believe it to be so, and even in this life the only source of happiness, and this intimate & necessary connection between virtue & happiness here, & between vice & misery, is to my mind one of the surest pledge of happiness or misery in a future state of existence. But how few practice virtue merely for its own reward? Some of happy dispositon & temperament, calm reflecting men, exempt in a great degree from the turbulance of passions may be virtuous for vitrtue’s sake. Small however is the number who are guided by reason alone, & who can always subject their passions to its dictates. He can thust act may be said to be virtuous, but reason is often inlisted on the side of the passions, or at best, when most wanted, is weakest. Hence the necessity of a superior motive for acting virtuously; Now, what motive can be stronger than ye belief, founded on revelation, that a virtuous life will be rewarded by a happy immortality? Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore, who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, & insures to the good eternal happiness are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free government. Continue reading
Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.
Pope Leo XIII
From the foundation of this nation, Catholics have fought and died in defense of American liberties. American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented. Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:
General Stephen Moylan a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.
Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.
Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.
Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign. Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy. After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787
Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.
Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War. Continue reading
Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.
This is a repeat from a post last year, with some very slight modifications, but I think the logic behind the post still holds true. As we are embroiled now in a struggle to preserve our religious liberty, I think the Fourth of July is a good time to recall the price paid to establish our liberties. It is trite to say that freedom is not free, but it is also true. A people who forget this eternal lesson will not remain free for long.
A number of feature films and miniseries have been made about the events of the American Revolution. Here are my top ten choices for Fourth of July viewing:
10. Ben and Me (1953)- Something for the younger patriots. Disney put to film the novel of Robert Lawson, Ben and Me, which related how many of Ben Franklin’s bright ideas came from his mouse Amos. Quite a bit of fun. Not a classic but certainly an overlooked gem.
9. The Crossing (2000)-A retelling of Washington’s brilliant crossing of the Delaware on Christmas 1776 and the battle of Trenton. This film would rank much higher on my list but for Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Washington as sullen and out of sorts throughout the movie. Washington had a temper, and he could give vent to it if provoked, although he usually kept it under control, but the peevish Washington portrayed here is simply ahistoric and mars an otherwise good recreation of the turning point of the Revolution.
8. John Paul Jones (1959) Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero. Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great. The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days. The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong. This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two-volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900. Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications. Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison. Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.
7. The Patriot (2000) Finally, a film which depicts the unsung contribution of Australians to victory in the American Revolution! Actually not too bad of a film overall. Heath Ledger is quite good as Gibson’s oldest son who joins the Continentals at the beginning of the war against his father’s wishes. Jason Isaacs is snarlingly good as the evil Colonel Tavington, very loosely based on Banastre Tarleton, commander of Tarleton’s Raiders during the Southern Campaign. The film of course allows Gibson to carry on his over-the-top vendetta against all things English. No, the British did not lock up American civilians in churches and burn them alive. However, the ferocity of the partisan fighting in the South is well depicted, and Banastre Tarleton at the Waxhaw Massacre earned a reputation for slaughtering men attempting to surrender. The final battle of the film is based on the battle of Cowpens where General Daniel Morgan decisively defeated Tarleton.
6. Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)-A John Ford classic starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert. Through the eyes of a young newlywed couple, Fonda and Colbert, the American Revolution on the frontier is depicted in the strategic Mohawk Valley. Full of the usual Ford touches of heroism, humor and ordinary life. Continue reading
Hattip to Father Z. From the speech of Pope Pius XII to seminarians on the opening of the North American College in Rome on October 14, 1953:
We belong to the Church militant ; and she is militant because on earth the powers of darkness are ever restless to encompass her destruction. Not only in the far-off centuries of the early Church, but down through the ages and in this our day, the enemies of God and Christian civilization make bold to attack the Creator’s supreme dominion and sacrosanct human rights. No rank of the clergy is spared ; and the faithful—their number is legion—inspired by the valiant endurance of their shepherds and fathers in Christ, stand firm, ready to suffer and die, as the martyrs of old, for the one true Faith taught by Jesus Christ. Into that militia you seek to be admitted as leaders.
Imprisonment and martyrdom, We know, do not loom on the horizon that spreads before your eyes. In an atmosphere of untrammeled freedom, where «the word of God is not bound», the Church in your country has grown in numbers, in influence, in strength of leadership in all that makes for the good of the commonwealth. The college on the via dell’Umiltà has seen your priests increase from twenty-fìve hundred to forty-fìve thousand and more-proud and glorious tribute to the unselfìsh, clear-visioned Catholic family life that prevails among you; a mission country become a seminary of apostles for foreign fìelds. But the Church militant is «one body, with one Spirit … with the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism».(Eph 4, 4 ff.) And that Spirit calls for more than a dash of heroism in every priest who would be worthy of the name, whatever the external circumstances of time and place.
The spirit of the martyrs breathes in every priestly soul, who in the daily round of pastoral duties and in his cheerful, unrelenting efforts to increase in wisdom and in grace, gives witness to the Prince of shepherds, who endured the cross, despised the shame «when He gave Himself up on our behalf, a sacrifice breathing out fragrance as He offered it to God». (Eph 5, 2.)
We raise a fervent prayer to Mary Immaculate, under whose patronage you have placed your country, to Mary gloriously assumed into heaven, whom you have wished to honour in your chapel here, that she would always show a mother’s loving care of the clergy of America, and guide you, beloved seminarians, bearers of such high hopes, along the way that leads to that holiness which will bring her to recognize in you a greater and greater resemblance to her own divine Son. Continue reading
Forasmuch, my lord, as this indictment is grounded upon an act of Parliament directly oppugnant to the laws of God and his holy church, the supreme government of which, or of any part thereof, may no temporal prince presume by any law to take upon him, as rightfully belonging to the See of Rome, a spiritual preeminence by the mouth of our Savior himself, personally present upon the earth, to Saint Peter and his successors, bishops of the same see, by special prerogative granted; it is therefore in law amongst Christian men, insufficient to charge any Christian man….
Saint Thomas More, 1535
It is glorious that two men who were friends in life, who died within weeks of each other, executed by the State for upholding the freedom of the Catholic Church, share the feast day of June 22. More and Fisher were martyrs for the freedom of the Catholic Church and also for the great truth that there are aspects of our lives that Caesar must no be allowed to control.
John Cardinal Fisher was made a Cardinal by Pope Paul III in May of 1535, King Henry stopped the cardinal’s hat from being brought into England, bellowing that he would send Fisher’s head to the Pope. Tried by a kangaroo court and convicted, the only testimony brought against him was by Richard Rich, a specialist in lying men to the headman’s block. Fisher was condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The Battle Cry of Freedom was a popular song North and South during the Civil War. Of course they sang different lyrics to the song. The Union version was such a favorite among the Union troops, that President Lincoln, in a letter to George F. Root, the composer, wrote: “You have done more than a hundred generals and a thousand orators. If you could not shoulder a musket in defense of your country, you certainly have served her through your songs.”
Here is the Southern version sung by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man campaign to bring Civil War music to modern audiences:
Here is the version from the Lincoln (2012) movie:
The American Catholic will again be participation in the Fortnight For Freedom-June 21-July 4 with special blog posts on the subject of freedom.
Here is the announcement of the Fortnight from the USCCB:
WASHINGTON—Catholic dioceses and parishes across the United States are once again encouraged to raise awareness for domestic and international religious freedom concerns during the third annual Fortnight for Freedom, June 21-July 4. The two-week celebration will focus on the theme, “Freedom to Serve,” emphasizing the link between religious liberty and service to the poor and vulnerable.
“During the Fortnight, our liturgical calendar celebrates great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul and the first martyrs of the Church of Rome,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). “This is a time when Catholics can unite themselves in prayer to the men and women throughout history who spread the Gospel and lived out Jesus’ call to serve the ‘least of these’ in even the direst of circumstances.”
Two nationally televised Masses will bookend the Fortnight. Archbishop Lori will celebrate Mass at the Baltimore Basilica on June 21, at 5:30 p.m. EDT. Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on July 4, at noon EDT. USCCB President Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, will be the homilist at the July 4 Mass.
USCCB has prepared materials to help dioceses and parishes participate in the Fortnight, including templates and guides for special prayer services, a list of frequently asked questions about religious liberty, one-page fact sheets on current threats to religious freedom in the U.S. and around the world, and a study guide on Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. Continue reading
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have proclaimed a second Fortnight for Freedom from June 21-July 4th, and, as last year, The American Catholic will participate with special blog posts each day.
I confess that I am not likely to see the Hand of God very much in most human events. Where some can clearly see Divine handiwork, I do not, perhaps because, in the words of Saint Paul, I “see as in a glass, darkly.” However, even I find it hard not to look at the events on the Fourth of July one hundred and fifty years ago, with the retreat of Lee from Gettysburg and the surrender of Vicksburg and not suspect that God was saying something through his human instrumentalities. At any rate it was left to Mr. Lincoln on November 19, 1863 to attempt to make sense of the terrible crisis that the nation was living through.
Presidents during their presidencies make hundreds of speeches. Most are utterly forgotten soon after they are delivered. Even most of the speeches by a president who is also a skilled orator, as Lincoln was, are recalled only by historians and trivia buffs. Yet the Gettysburg address, given 146 years ago today, has achieved immortality.
Lincoln was invited to say a few words at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. The featured speaker was Edward Everett, one of the most accomplished men in American public life, who gave a two hour oration. It is a fine example of nineteenth century oratory, full of learning, argument and passion. It may seem very odd to contemplate in our sound bite age, but audiences in America in Lincoln’s time expected these type of lengthy excursions into eloquence and felt cheated when a speaker skimped on either length or ornateness in his efforts.
Lincoln then got up and spoke for two minutes.
We are not really sure precisely what Lincoln said. There are two drafts of the speech in Lincoln’s hand, and they differ from each other. It is quite likely that neither reflects the exact words that Lincoln used in the Gettysburg Address. For the sake of simplicity, and because it is the version people usually think of when reference is made to the Gettysburg address, the text used here is the version carved on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial.
Fourscore 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 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. Continue reading