Honoring the Gettysburg Address

Words are powerful things.

November 19th marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address – one of the most compelling speeches in history.

Great leaders draw on the power of words to change the course of history. Abraham Lincoln was a powerful wordsmith. He loved words. He employed them for highly virtuous ends. At Gettysburg, his ringing, provoking oratory moveda nation and changed the world.

The Gettysburg Address consists of 272 words. Using simple English words, Lincoln wove them into a fabric of subtle beauty and penetrating meaning. He pithily restated the fundamental principles of our Constitution and the very essence of representative government.

The Civil War answered thunderously in the affirmative the great question of whether or not the States would remain a cohering union. However, from today’s perspective, the pre-eminent outcome of the Civil War was that all people,particularly former African-American slaves, shall be treated equally before the law, as established in the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The Founders unsuccessfully wrestled with the slavery issue. The Constitutional Convention would have collapsed had the Northern States insisted that it be abolished. They left the issue for later generations to deal with, although some knew even then that overcoming slavery and obtaining equal treatment under law for all would come at the price of bloodshed.

In his address at Gettysburg, Lincoln spoke of the “unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.” And on this 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s great speech we have the opportunity to examine our own progress toward this “unfinished work.” Lincoln’s words remind us that the essence of life, the measure of our humanity is about learning to love people and treating them with the dignity and respect every person deserves, regardless of who they are – rich or poor, high or low, beautiful or ugly.

As chair of the Utah Commission on Civic and Character Education, I’m excited to announce the Commission’s partnership with GettyReady – a Utah nonprofit whose mission is to engage Utahns in a year-long commemoration and celebration of the Gettysburg Address. We are encouraging students, parents, teachers and community members to memorize its simple, yet powerful 272 words. From the address, we hope our citizens will take up what Lincoln deemed “the great task remaining before us.”

We hope that teachers will implement special lesson plans helping students to understand the historical context and meaning of the Gettysburg Address. We challenge families and service organizations to discuss Lincoln’s words and then apply the values and lessons of his message to our modern times. A compilation of resources for teachers, students, families and civic leaders can be found at www.gettyready.org.

The GettyReady challenge is this: Learn it. Understand its deep meaning. Learn to love the essential American republican principles which it so elegantly restates. Teach it to those around you.

Please join me and thousands of other Utah citizens in first learning, and then living and honoring the ideals which Lincolnso elegantly restated in the Gettysburg Address.