Abraham Lincoln and Memorial Day

Memorial Day was born from the ashes and destruction and death of America’s Civil War. Photo: Henry Hartley photo taken on July 4, 2003.

SAN JOSE, Ca., May 27, 2012  Memorial Day will be celebrated in the United Statesthis coming Monday and Americans primarily celebrate the day with backyard barbecues or gatherings of family and friends who will enjoy an extra day of the weekend and mark it off the calendar as the “official” start of summer.  But for many Americans, the deeper essence of Memorial Day is often not an over the dining room table topic because it usually invokes the memory of those who gave their lives upon a battlefield. To pursue the topic deeply could dredge up deep emotions over the loss of loved ones and the pain and agony involved in sincerely missing those who will never return to their homes or families.

Memorial Day originated because of the painful experience of a nation’s loss of life on   a massive scale. Memorial Day was born from the ashes and destruction and death of America’s Civil War. It was established by the Veteran’s Association after the war as a way of honoring the Union soldiers who gave their lives that theUnited States could survive as a nation. Abraham Lincoln expressed the sentiment best when he honored the men who fought at Gettysburg:

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation (one conceived in Liberty) or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield 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…

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot 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 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 – 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…”     

Soldiers National Monument, Gettysburg PA (Click to enlarge)

Soldiers National Monument, Gettysburg PA (Click to enlarge)

Lincoln’s words ring true through the ages and touch people even to this day.

But what he indicated in his words was that he was not totally sure that the United States as a nation dedicated to Liberty and Freedom would continue to endure. He was not sure whether the United States could hold on to the dream of freedom for all people.

When Lincoln was president, half the country was against him and the rest were unsure of what they believed about the institution of slavery. But, it was Lincoln and a small minority of Americans who believed slavery was wrong – politically, economically, and morally. His attitude was simple: the country could not continue to be half slave and half free because a house divided against itself cannot endure.    

Lincoln went back to the founders to get a more clear understanding of their intent in creating such a nation conceived in Liberty. He went back to Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence and to the Bill of Rights to get to the bedrock of why our nation came into existence. He was fighting an uphill battle against great odds during his two terms and eventually his belief and his ideals were triumphant.

Unfortunately, even Lincoln gave up his own life for the fragile dream of freedom for all.

Lincoln was willing to go to war and willing to send men and boys to fight in order to determine whether freedom for all people would be possible to exist in this nation. The irony is that he was not a violent man; he did not even hunt wild animals as a young man growing up out on the frontier. Yet, he was sincere in his dedication to the principles of freedom and liberty being the bedrock of our nation.

If one closely examines his choice of words, it is possible to understand that he was most concerned with the survival of the key founding principles as mentioned in the first paragraph of his Gettysburg Address. He was absolutely determined to make certain that the dream of freedom would not dissolve.

When Lincoln is considered among the various presidents, he is held up above many and stands out as one of the strongest men who occupied the White House. But other men who occupied the White House have had to make similar decisions to send men and boys off to fight and to send women off to war to serve on the frontlines. America has lost so much when sending the best of our country off to the battlefield. It almost seems as if every generation has been confronted with the challenge to such fragile liberty and each generation has had to sacrifice to keep the dream of the Land of the Free alive.

U.S. history is filled with the narratives of our military being deployed in response to the commands from the many presidents since Lincoln, and while some were orders that would have been better thought out, many presidents have deployed our troops as freedom’s response to a formidable challenge from some form of slavery, whether it was Fascism, Nationalist Socialism, or Communism, or whatever name the slave masters chose to disguise it.

There is no denying that freedom and liberty are fragile within this turbulent world.

Sadly, American men and women have been required to take action over and over again to help the democratic world fight against the attempts of tyrants who sought to take control or maintain control of various peoples throughout the world. WhatAmerica fought over and resolved in the mid 1800s was whether such a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to freedom would survive to defend the realization of this dream on this planet.

Long after the American Revolution, another famous quote was shared in the annals of history: “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” No matter who said it, it also is true. But in a deeper sense, the cost is much higher than that. Because it is ultimately up to those who keep the vigil, those Americans in uniform, who not only keep watch, but are often required to lay down their lives for the preservation of freedom throughout the world.

Who else would? Who else could?

Lincoln understood the stakes were high during the Civil War, but they always seem to be high when the battle between freedom and slavery takes substantial form. On a consistent course that our founding fathers initiated over 200 years ago, Americans are the ones called upon to make the sacrifices so that freedom could continue to exist. It is fitting and proper that Americans always remember all those who gave their lives “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.”

On this Memorial Day, may God bless the men and women who offered their lives so that such a nation conceived inLiberty might endure.


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Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member  at West Valley College in California.  He also currently writes a column on history and one on American freedom for the Communities at the Washington Times.

 

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