This is Utah SHRM Legal-mail no. 2013-21 prepared for Salt Lake SHRM, the Human Resources Association of Central Utah (HRACU), the Northern Utah Human Resources Association (NUHRA), the Color Country Human Resources Association (CCHRA), the Bridgerland Society for Human Resource Management and Utah at-large members of the national Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
CONTENTS: WHAT DOES “FOUR SCORE AND SEVEN YEARS AGO” MEAN?
Why is the Gettysburg Address so important?
Beyond being a wonderful speech, it helped restore the nation to its founding principles of equality, liberty and justice for all.
In 1776 (“Four score and seven years” before November 19, 1863 when Lincoln delivered the famous speech), the nation’s founders wrote, in the Declaration of Independence, that “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.”
During the framing of the United States Constitution in 1787, however, practical politics required a compromise "in order to form a more perfect union.” Thus, the Constitution effectively accepted and institutionalized (albeit somewhat indirectly) the practice of slavery to ensure that the slave-holding states would agree to it. The fight over slavery was put off to another day.
That day of reckoning arrived some seventy four years later in the form of the Civil War, which started in 1861. After three years of war and the Union victory at the bloody Battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln saw an opportunity to clearly define the Civil War as the struggle to restore to the nation the basic principle of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Thus, he devoted his short address in November of 1863 at the consecration of the Gettysburg cemetery to this notion.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address first reminds us that our nation was “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He notes that the Civil War is “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” He then summons the nation to carry on the cause of the brave dead and “to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.” Invoking the memory of those who “gave the last full measure of devotion,” he dedicates the Civil War to the purpose of giving the nation “a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
In less than a dozen sentences and just a few minutes, Lincoln restored to the nation its essence, the very concept on which it came to exist.the principle of freedom for all people as articulated in the Declaration of Independence.
And that is why the Gettysburg Address is such an important moment in our collective history. As you go about your business today, consider for a brief moment the great freedoms we all enjoy, and whisper appreciation for those simple but eloquent words spoken 150 years ago today.