The overarching and enduring message of Lincoln's address is a statement about nationhood. The United States is a nation that the founding fathers gave birth to through the revolutionary struggle. It is an idea that springs from the mind rather than from geological or historical borders. Significantly, the idea that gave birth to the nation and continues its justified existence is the idea of liberty and equality.
The test of that idea is the Civil War, with the North defending these earlier aspirations. The people gathered in Gettysburg are being called to give rebirth to that same animating idea and to engage in "the great task" of freedom.
The structure of the speech is brilliant. Lincoln goes from an original birth to a future birth, from original freedom and equality to future freedoms and equality. In the middle of the speech, as well as in the middle of the motif, lies the dead of Gettysburg—those who gave their life on behalf of the idea of the United States, rather than any...
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