In his short but powerful speech at the dedication of the Soldier's National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Abraham Lincoln deftly addressed three issues: the soldiers, the nation, and the cemetery.
The occasion of the speech was to dedicate the cemetery. Lincoln notes that the land was the scene of "a great battle-field of that war," that is, the Civil War. Although he concedes that it is "fitting and proper" to set apart a portion of the battlefield as a "final resting place" for the soldiers who died there, he insists the ground is already hallowed because of their actions.
Lincoln goes on to honor the soldiers who fought for the Union in the Battle of Gettysburg. He thanks them for giving their lives so that the nation could live. He praises them and the soldiers who survived, asserting that "the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here" are the ones who have consecrated the ground more than any speaker could. Their work in trying to save the Union was noble, and it will never be forgotten.
As president, Lincoln's primary concern at the time was the survival of the nation. He uses the address to reaffirm the importance of the United States of America as a complete union. He refers to the founding of the country, citing the Declaration of Independence, which documented "the proposition that all men are created equal." He describes the Civil War as a war that is:
testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure.
This reference to the overarching goals of the nation put the cemetery and the soldiers into perspective. A much larger issue was at stake—namely, the very foundation of our political experiment in democracy. Thus, he ends the speech with an eloquent appeal to his listeners to do what they can to keep the nation intact:
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.
Lincoln's address discussed the cemetery, the soldiers, and the nation, but it focused on the essential task of keeping the country unified.