This most interesting American figure had a bit more formal training than Douglas did, but not much. They had a little bit of schooling for the young, but most of Lincoln's education was like Douglass, self-education.
He was long, tall, gangly, and people would see him sitting out under a tree all afternoon reading books. America has this thing that if you're reading books then you're wasting time, right? Most of you don't waste that much time reading because there are other things to do, and this fellow could be out splitting rails or doing some other real work, instead he's sitting around reading.
He read until he knew enough to take the bar exam, and went to law school. He learned enough from reading books to become a lawyer. His style of english writing becomes quite excellent. He has a wonderful style that he gets from years of writing, reading, debating. He went around the state of Illinois debating stephen Douglas.
They were competing for the senate. Lincoln was from the new party, the republicans. Lincoln lost the senate election, but he forced Douglas into sort of a coming out in favor of maintaining the slave system even expanding it. When the two men ran for president, Lincoln was then elected president.
Two of his most famous writings are rather short.
Lincoln gets up afterward, and this is just a little end to the thing. Before the crowd really gets quiet, the speech is over. It is only about three or four minutes long, but it was printed in newspapers across the country, and became a powerful statement of what this war is about.
"Four score and seven years ago"
Now, how long is that? Eighty-seven years. What kind of language is this? Do we use this sort of terminology much? Four score and seven? It's very formal. In rhetoric they talk about the high tone, middle tone and low tone. This is definitely a high tone. You're using formal language and formal diction, not necessarily long words, but very formal type of language.
"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."
"All men are created equal." Where have we heard that before? The Declaration of Independence. The Declaration had always sort of been there. We find that the Declaration of Senenca Falls used the Declaration of Independence, but it had more or less been gathering dust, four score and seven years ago. By the way, what year was he talking about? Four score and seven? 1863 minus 87? 1776. What happened that year? The Revolution. He's talking about of course the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Why did he not go to the Constitution? This is what the Supreme Court goes to. They don't read the Declaration of Independence when deciding on Constitutional issues. What part of this is missing from the Constitution? What is it that's not there? All men are created equal. Does the Constitution assert that? In fact, we find slavery sanctioned by the Constitution.
Therefore, Lincoln cannot go to the Constitution. This was a problem in the Lincoln-Douglas debate. He had been working on this for years, and Douglas would say, "Look, slavery is constitutional." Lincoln then had to find some other document to go to. Some other American document that would oppose slavery. Where would you find such a document? The Declaration of Independence. It was a seed planted by Thomas Jefferson. all men are created equal, and this has rang ever since.
At the beginning, it meant all white men with property are created equal. Those were the people who got to vote. Then it was loosened up to white citizens. Eventually, it was applied to black men and women in other ways. We see the circle of freedom growing. Lincoln is saying that this was a proposition. In other words, this is something a rational something thought out, part of enlightenment, this is an experiment.
"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."
The argument against democracy has always been that people lack the judgment to rule themselves. If you create a democracy, it will degrade rather rapidly into a rabble. People will not know how to act. They'll vote themselves large sums of money out of the treasury, and you'll wind up with these huge deficits. Nothing like that has ever happened in America, has it? Because everybody wants to take out, and nobody wants to put in.
We also have a case of the tyranny of the majority. Something that the founders did fear. Do we want 51% of the people to be able to decide what to do with the other 49%? Do we want a pure democracy? How many of us are in here? 30. If 16 or us decide that we need to kill the other 14 of you, is that the kind of society that you want to live in? So, America had principles beyond the principle of strict majority rule. One of these is all men are created equal. Can we have this sort of government? It is still the great debate. A century ago, W.E. DuBouise said that in the twentieth century the great question in America would be the color line. As we stand at the beginning of a new century, the great question for that century is the same thing.
In some ways we've come a long ways. In other ways, we haven't come far at all. We still have a lot of issues to work out based on this proposition. The fact is that we have this very broad, very absolute proposition and then we have to figure out how does this apply? How does it work out?
"We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have to 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."
By the way, in this nice, neat laid-out cemetery, at the time they were still in the process of getting the bodies buried, there were bodies laying about still. So you can see that this was a great battlefield.
"In a larger sense, we cannot dedicate--we can not consecrate--we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, for 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."
These people who died, they really dedicated it to them. What we need to do is not for us the living to be dedicated here. In other words, instead of dedicating the field we're dedicating ourselves to finish the work.
"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 for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased 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."
The syntax here is very high. Normally, we would expect from the people, by the people, and of the people. He leaves out the "and." Just puts this out there, and very powerful.
"One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war."
What was the reason for the war? it's been an ongoing debate. It's a preponderance of people believe that it was over slavery. Lincoln says:
"Neither party expected for the was, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding."
The south and the north both thought that they'd win the war in three weeks. That they'd be back home for Christmas. instead, it dragged on for four years, and was the bloodiest war that we've ever fought. More people died in this war than in all of the other wars from the Revolution until Vietnam combined.
There were towns were all the young men would be lost in a single battle. They enlisted together. You'd have the Ruston group serving. If the Ruston group got caught in the cross fire, they could all die.
"Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of the other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged."
So, he quotes two places from the Bible. You will earn your bread by the sweat of your brow. He says that in the south the slave owners have been earning their bread by the sweat of the brows of the black people who are their slaves, but we are not judging. This is generally the approach of Lincoln.
"The prayers of both could be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes."
For Lincoln, God's purposes were mysterious. For the southerners, it was apparent that God wanted slavery. For the northerners, it was apparent that the slave owners were the spawn of Satan. In fact, we have been hearing a lot about the impeachment of Andrew Johnson the last few weeks. it appears to have some parallel to some modern events, but that was over the way that reconstruction should be handled. These things that Lincoln was talking about were very real, and momentous for the nation.
"Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, have continued through North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?"
So, God is judging both the North and the South because both were complicity in slavery. Both must be part of the reconstruction of the country.
The last paragraph:
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as god gives us to see the right; let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
This is his concluding paragraph. The goal was to have a peace, but one which would include the South. He always thought that the nation had unison. In bringing the South back in, he thought that it should be done in a way that would enable the southerners to become once again part of the Union.