By The Oregonian, Portland
Sevenscore and 10 years ago Thursday, the country we celebrate on July 4 was saved. At the beginning of July 1863, a Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania, intended to threaten Philadelphia and Washington and force the North to sue for peace, was driven back at Gettysburg.
After that, there would be no chance of a Southern victory, and a reunited nation would endure.
This week at Gettysburg, there are tours, re-enactments, performances, book signings and a demonstration of making lemonade in the style of the 1860s.
But the battle will be forever expressed in a moment that happened four months after the fighting, when Abraham Lincoln stood on the battlefield and said – literally – a few words.
Lincoln talked about a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and a war “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
Lincoln had taken the idea of a limited compact of states, carefully arranged not to interfere with slavery, and replaced it with the idea of a great unified nation, with universal rights to all American men.
And Lincoln had another point to make: “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. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us … .”
Lincoln’s dream of a unified nation, like his vision of equal citizens, is a task more than a destination.
There will always be “a great task remaining before us.” And if it no longer requires firing cannons at each other, our endless assignment of building unity and democracy will always be more explosive than easy.
That may be why, every year, we celebrate July 4 with fireworks.