By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
It was, mercifully, a short speech, only two minutes in duration, a mere 271 words.
Abraham Lincoln stood on a platform along the crest of a hill just outside the gates of Gettysburg’s national cemetery, under which lay the remains of hundreds of Civil War dead.
The president was not even the day’s keynote speaker.
That honor fell to former Massachusetts governor and secretary of state Edward Everett, who rambled on for two hours just before Lincoln rose to speak.
Reviews were mixed. The Chicago Times called the speech “a perversion of history so flagrant that the extended charity cannot regard it otherwise than willful.”
The Harrisburg Patriot and Union said, “We pass over the silly remarks of the president. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”
But the Chicago Tribune wrote, “the dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man.”
The Tribune proved prescient. Tuesday marked the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s historic speech, and the president’s words have rung clear and true down through the last century and a half.
The remarks were delivered in the midst of a protracted, horrible war between once and future countrymen.
Lincoln’s speech unveiled his vision of what America, a united nation, should be: “A nation conceived in liberty.” Lincoln knew this country was birthed by those who believed in freedom, under which the rights of the individual were not constrained by the yolk of oppression.
“Dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” he said, but to that point in our history many people had not acted that way. They treated people of color as property, as chattel, as objects to be used as they saw fit, then discarded when they had outlived their efficacy. Lincoln knew this abomination could not, must not continue.
“That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.” Lincoln acknowledged the Almighty’s influence on the fledgling nation, and that the freedoms of many had been usurped under the guise of state’s rights.
“And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” I wonder what “The Great Emancipator” would think of what our government has become today.
Was the recent government shutdown of the people, by the people, for the people?
No, it was of the politicians, by the politicians and for the politicians.
It often seems the people are a mere afterthought for our leaders these days.
They seem far more interested in boosting their own political ambitions or advancing their party’s agenda than they do actually serving their constituents.
It has been quite some time since our government has been “of the people.” Candidates often deride their opponents as “professional politicians,” but in truth it takes a professional, and one with supporters with deep pockets, to get elected these days.
In the 2012 election, it cost an average of just under $1.6 million for a candidate to be elected to the House of Representatives, and $11.4 million to elect a senator, according to opensecrets.com.
The lowest amount spent by a candidate for the House was $209,532, while the cheapest senate campaign cost $2.8 million.
By the people? Political parties, lobbyists and special interest groups seem to be calling the shots in Washington these days.
And politicians on both sides of the aisle seem so pig-headedly entrenched in their own dogma they are unwilling and unable to compromise.
The Gettysburg Address was a magnificent speech, one of the most profound bits of oration in human history.
Thankfully, the honored dead lying beneath the soil of that cemetery did not die in vain.
With God’s help, the war ended, the nation was reunited and has endured for 150 years since that November day in southern Pennsylvania.
We have not abandoned those men and their sacrifice, and neither have we not forgotten the words of their commander, though it seems we often fail to follow their sage advice.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.