Lincoln declared in the Gettysburg Address that ‘all men are created equal’ during a time when the United States was plagued by ‘a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure’ (“The Gettysburg Address”). Lincoln used the Gettysburg Address to remind the American people of the importance of the work that American soldiers contributed in the great sacrifice to fight for freedom by arguing that the world ‘can never forget what they did here’ (“The Gettysburg Address”). Lincoln successfully reminded the American people that despite the work soldiers contributed towards ensuring that America was an equal and free nation, that ‘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’ (“The Gettysburg Address”). This essay will explore what the Gettysburg Address, a two-hundred and seventy-two word document addressed on November 19th 1863 on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (Lincoln, “The Gettysburg Address”) means to me. This essay will examine what it means to me through the themes of liberty, equality, freedom, sacrifice and the continuous struggle for true equality and freedom for many black citizens in the United States.
Equality is one of the most important themes in Lincoln’s speech, as Lincoln refers to how those who founded the United States believed that America should be a country ‘dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal’ (“The Gettysburg Address”). This is one reason why the Gettysburg Address means so much to me personally because I am fortunate to have grown up during a generation where all governments in Western countries are committed to the principle of equality. What this means is that many countries ensure that equal rights for all citizens in their country, regardless of colour, gender, or background, all possess the same rights and discrimination against people based on the principle of background, is completely outlawed. I was also born into a generation that has no memory of Apartheid in South Africa as it had ended during the time I was born. Therefore, equality is an important theme for me personally when I think of the Gettysburg Address because Lincoln helped pave the way for all governments, not just the United States, to provide equal rights for their citizens at a time when the world did not fully embrace true equality and still discriminated against many of its citizens based on skin colour.
However, the Gettysburg Address means a lot to me personally because it acted as a stark reminder that even when the American Civil War ended, the struggle for equality in the United States and across the world would still exist once the American Civil War was over. Lincoln acknowledged this unfortunate fact in the Gettysburg Address when he suggested that ‘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 (“The Gettysburg Address”). This section of the Gettysburg Address shows the true price paid to ensure black Americans gained true equality in the United States; sacrifice, and the dedication of others to ensure this task was completed. After the American Civil War, the struggle for true equality continued in the United States as after the Civil War, there were still many attempts to segregate and attack black Americans when the Ku Klux Klan emerged in the 1870s, the Jim Crow Laws and the Mississippi Black Codes were introduced and figures such as Martin Luther King Junior and Malcolm X had to fight on in the 1960s, one-hundred years after the American Civil War, to ensure that all black Americans would receive the same rights and opportunities as many of its fellow white citizens. This is why the Gettysburg Address means so much to me because it reminds me that the struggle for true equality still existed after the American Civil War, and even today, many black Americans are still discriminated against by white policemen in recent events regarding shootings in America.
Lincoln made a reference to freedom in the Gettysburg Address when he argued 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 Gettysburg Address”). Freedom is an important value for me because freedom can be associated with many different values that we take for granted in our country, such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of opinion, and freedom of press. I am incredibly lucky to have been born in a country where those values are taken for granted and after studying history, I find it incredibly hard to believe that there was once a time in the United States of America, a country founded upon liberty, freedom and equality after overthrowing the British, would treat so many of its citizens this way based on their skin colour. With South Africa being a recent example of where this practice still happened until the 1990s, this shows that freedom for all people is still being embraced by many countries and that the struggle for freedom is still ongoing in many places today. That is why the Gettysburg Address means a lot to me personally because I will always associate it with freedom for many citizens in America.
Finally, Lincoln makes a reference to liberty in the Gettysburg Address when he implies that the ‘new nation’ of the United States of America is ‘conceived in liberty’ (“The Gettysburg Address”). Liberty is an important concept because it means you can be born into a society by being free without any laws inhibiting one’s behaviour based on their background or political views. Because the American Civil War was fought on the concept of ensuring that all Americans received true liberty, it showed that Lincoln was true to his principles in regards to liberty. The struggle for liberty across the world continued after the American Civil War as the Second World War to many Jews and other minorities meant living in a free society where they were not restricted in terms of liberty, to political opponents oppressed by communist governments in Eastern Europe, it meant having the liberty to exercise their political beliefs without being restricted by their own governments, and liberty to many black citizens in South Africa meant being free from similar restrictions imposed on black citizens in the United States. I find liberty an inspiring concept, and that is why the Gettysburg Address means so much to me personally.
In conclusion, the Gettysburg Address means so much to me personally, but the main reasons as to why it is so important to me are because it represents liberty, equality, freedom, sacrifice and the continuous struggle for true equality and freedom for many black citizens in the United States. These are concepts that we take for granted in the twenty-first century and there are many people born today who cannot possibly understand what it means to once live in a world where the struggle for these concepts in society was more of a struggle then as it is today. There are still many societies that still do not experience these concepts in everyday life, such as Saudi Arabia and many of the territories being occupied by ISIS. But for those who are struggling to achieve liberty, equality and freedom in society, they should take comfort in the words of Abraham Lincoln who not only spoke those words, but ensured that the United States started to make these rights a reality.
Lincoln, Abraham. The Gettysburg Address. Cornell University Press, 2013. Web. 30 January 2016.