Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Conceived in Liberty"

From an essay about Lincoln's Gettysburg address, new to me. The whole is very much worth reading.
The first paragraph of the Gettysburg Address consists of only one sentence, but it's a doozy. It describes the past, the nation's beginnings. .... The past that Lincoln refers to is a past that stretches back before living memory. "Four score and seven years ago" exceeds the individual's allotment of "three score and ten," the Biblical phrase for the natural span of a human life. Lincoln's decision to formulate the date in this way accentuates the fact that the founding is now beyond anyone's direct experience. ....

Our own time is like Lincoln's in this sense, as we daily experience the loss of the living history of the 20th century: The last surviving American veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles, died in 2011, and our "forest of giant oaks" — the World War II vets — will soon follow. In keeping with this insight into impermanence, Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address does not try to conjure up the drama of the revolution. Instead, he substitutes more peaceful, natural imagery: What happened in 1776 was that "our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation." As the date indicates, it was a document, the Declaration of Independence, that announced our nativity. A document, unlike historical memory, is permanent — there to be read and fully understood by each successive generation. While Lincoln is the greatest of constitutionalists, he considers the Declaration our foundational text. ....

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