‘Last full measure of devotion’

Published 8:30 pm Saturday, May 23, 2015

As we prepare to mark Memorial Day with cookouts, beach trips and vacations, it is appropriate to remember that the day is a truly a commemoration, rather than a celebration.

Americans mark this day as a time to remember the sacrifice made by men and women through the centuries to pay for the freedoms we enjoy today. The current commemoration has its roots, in fact, in a desire to honor those who fell in the Civil War.

A little less than a year after the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s costliest battle — the Battle of Gettysburg, in which an estimated 51,112 troops lost their lives between July 1 and July 3, 1863 — the words of President Abraham Lincoln continue to resonate through time.

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Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. 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 — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — 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.

(The text above is from the so-called “Bliss Copy,” one of several versions Lincoln wrote, and believed to be the final version.)