Abraham Lincoln wasn’t often wrong. On November 19, 1863, he was. Following the two hour Gettysburg cemetery dedication speech by Edward Everett, Lincoln got up and spoke for two minutes.

And he can be excused for perhaps thinking that a 120 second speech would be quickly forgotten. At the time, many thought it should be.

But 150 years of hindsight does make a difference.

During his short address, Lincoln connected his present with the past of Jefferson and other Founding Fathers – making it clear that the idea “all are created equal” was as relevant in 1863 as 1776.

It still is. 

I think we sometimes forget that “a new birth of freedom” was not a one-time thing. It must be ongoing and never-ending. But progress has been slow. Too often, we struggle to turn Lincoln’s vision into reality. Civil rights. Womens rights. Same sex marriage. Headway has been, and continues to be, slowed by a lack of strong political leadership or short-sighted legal wrangling.

Democracy can be messy. But Lincoln knew that there was “unfinished work” that needs attention. And America needs citizens that will fight to complete that work.

On this anniversary of Lincoln’s address, I can’t think of a more honorable calling than preparing our students to be that sort of citizen.

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
November 19, 1863