It happened to me yesterday when I found myself out of sorts because my best friend was en route to harm's way via a military deployment, but still took time to call to tell me the sunset he'd just witnessed reminded him of me. Busted. I missed out on the greatness of the moment because I was focused on myself.
If anyone had an excuse to fail to see greatness, it was President Abraham Lincoln. As war-weary as he was with a country in the throes of collapse, Lincoln still saw greatness when he gazed beyond the bloody battlefields and divided mess that was post-Civil War America and envisioned a nation our founders could be proud of that was once again "one nation under God."
One Thursday afternoon in 1863, Lincoln attempted to share this vision in a little more than two-minute speech that forever became known as The Gettysburg Address. Lincoln reminded those on both sides of the war no one had died in vain because their shed blood offered everyone, regardless of skin color, the opportunity for "a new birth of freedom." He explained that moving forward as a united people would allow our "government of the people, by the people, for the people" to be preserved.
To no surprise, Lincoln was hammered by some in the media for his vision. An editorial in the Harrisburg Patriot and Union stated, "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 no more be repeated or thought of." The Chicago Times detailed, "The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwattery [sic] utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States." Boy, were they wrong; Lincoln's address became one of the most famous presidential speeches in American history.
So here we stand today, the Shining City on a Hill dimly lit and despondently divided. Though words have replaced muskets, and name-calling replaced cannons, the damage is about as severe. Unlike days of old, when President Lincoln lay awake at night trying to unify a divided people, we have a president and Democratic leaders in Congress who preach civility, yet wage their own wars on class, race and gender. They would do well to consider the words of Patrick Henry who said, "Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand divided we fall. Let us not split into faction which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs."
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