On a recent trip to the East Coast, our family visited Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. One thing I remember most from our visit was that in his Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln stated, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." How ironic that it would be the speech, not the battle, that would make Gettysburg famous. Perhaps this is because it was Lincoln's speech that spoke healing to the heart of our nation when she had been torn asunder. Both North and South faced huge losses at Gettysburg, and the question that loomed over the heads of citizens was, "Was it worth it? Is preservation of the nation a just cause for war?" Lincoln faced this question head-on in his speech, declaring, "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."
While the exact reasons for the war are not fully understood and are still an issue that is hotly debated among historians, it is generally agreed that the issue of slavery had a prominent role in bringing about the conflict we now know as the American Civil War. Slavery was an issue that was ingrained into the fabric of our nation from the start. Several founding fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves, though it is apparent that they did not necessarily agree with the practice and sought to treat their slaves as fellow men, created equal. The agricultural South relied on slave labor and sought to continue and expand the practice in the states formed subsequent to the western expansion. When anti-slavery proponent Abraham Lincoln was elected president, the Southern states responded with secession from the Union. Once the war had started, President Lincoln put forward an effort to end the practice of slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that as of the first of January, 1863, all enslaved persons in the United States were freemen (Congress never officially recognized the secession of southern states), though this was not fully consummated until after the war with the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865. Those that died at Gettysburg did not do so in vain, but for the preservation of the nation "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
Lincoln demonstrated his conviction that slavery is an offense against God, who created man in His image, when, in speaking of the North and South, he said, "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."
Today, these words from Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Address (delivered in 1865, the year the war ended) can be seen etched on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., as a testimony to the character of this great leader and the distinctly biblical worldview of humanity upon which his legacy of liberty is founded.