Our View: Still ‘perfect’

Posted: November 19, 2012

Remember back when we were kids and some local worthy arose to deliver the Gettysburg Address on a national holiday? The recitation seemed to take forever.

Well, the operative word here, perhaps, is “kids,” whose concept of time is notably skewed. In truth, Abraham Lincoln’s signature oration is but 270 words or so long (depending on the version referenced). It took but a bit more than two minutes to deliver. And “forever” is simply how long it will be remembered.

In those two minutes, which originally passed 149 years ago today, Mr. Lincoln not only captured the broad sweep of American history over “four score and seven years,” but his words also presaged a new, and vastly different America, and “a new birth of freedom.”

The speech is remarkable in so many aspects, not the least of which is that our 16th president was coming down with a mild case of smallpox when he spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery. Its message, as we noted above, combined premise (“a new nation, conceived in liberty”) and promise (that “new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”) as it endeavored to make sense of the sacrifice made by so many on Gettysburg’s hallowed ground.

In short, as the Springfield (Mass.) Republican observed later that week, “his little speech is a perfect gem.” And, in its resounding brevity, the speech remains so today, the lustrous expression of a clear, and uncluttered, American mind.