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Words of Wisdom from Abraham Lincoln on Veterans & Remembrance Day

November 11, 2010

Updated November 10, 2011

Since writing this post last November, the bitterness and growing polarization in America is forcing the country closer to a crossroads.

In a period of growing political, social and economic division, Americans would do well to reflect on the wise words of President Abraham Lincoln, who saved the less than 90 year-old union through his extraordinary leadership skills.

President Lincoln gave his historical Gettysburg address on November 19, 1863, to dedicate a national cemetery on the battlefield where over 5,000 soldiers from the Union and Confederate armies were slain. The Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania), fought over three days, saw a total of over 28,000 Confederate and 23,000 Union troops killed. The American Civil War (1861-1865) left a mind-numbing 600,000 plus dead soldiers (360,000 Union and 260,000 Confederate).

The numbers of dead from the Civil War are hard to grasp, especially when it was Americans killing Americans. People get upset when they reflect on the 57,000 US soldiers killed during the Vietnam War, or the 5,000 plus in Iraq. In the context of the history of nations the Civil War was only 150 years ago, a mere blink of the eye for ancient countries such as Greece, China and even younger countries like Great Britain.

For those actively involved in the mud slinging, political hyperbole and legislative stalling tactics, they may wish to contemplate their actions after reading Lincoln’s brief yet cogent Gettysberg Address.

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.

This week, reflect on the sacrifices of the MILLIONS of American soldiers who have died and been wounded while serving their country over the past 200 years. Are the political infighting, backstabbing and growing divisions between political parties something that honors their sacrifices?

And take a moment to read my reflections in an earlier post The Leadership Challenge: Honoring and Learning from the Sacrifices of Others.

May our children and our children’s children to a thousand generations, continue to enjoy the benefits conferred upon us by a united country, and have cause yet to rejoice under those glorious institutions bequeathed us by Washington and his compeers.

President Abraham Lincoln, October 4, 1862. Speech at Frederick, Maryland

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Mimouna permalink
    November 12, 2010 1:03 am

    Do they study American presidents, or the Gettysburg Address in Canada? I am pleased, but surprised. I highly doubt Europeans study such things, and somehow I imagined Canadian education would be more similar to European education.

    • November 12, 2010 2:02 am

      Because of America’s dominant influence on Canada, Canadians have as good if not better sense of past presidents than with their own prime ministers. I disliked history in high school, but because of the way it was taught. Most students felt (and feel) that way. As I got older and through my studies on leadership, I broadened my reading, which included political leadership. I’ve found it enlightening to read about such presidents as FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, Lincoln and Washington, combined with numerous books on geo-politics.


  1. Friday’s Leaderly Quotation: President Roosevelt’s Message to America « ChangingWinds

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