Two vivid milestones in American history reached notable anniversaries this week.
Tuesday was the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, given to mark one of the bloodiest — and most important — battles of the Civil War.
And today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of beloved President John F. Kennedy.
The two violent events delivered piercing blows to the national psyche. But Americans’ recovery from both also proved the strength of this country’s personal and political foundations.
Kennedy’s death on Nov. 22, 1963, unfolded as a shocking, unrelenting reality. There was no turning back the clock to make it right. It was not something to be understood.
We were a different nation after that. We had lost our leader and our innocence.
And now, the words spoken by Lincoln at Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863, seem to stand not only as a message about the 51,112 casualties of that battle but, somehow, also as a tribute to Kennedy and his ideals: equality, national service, freedom and love of country.
Consider how Lincoln’s memorable words can also apply as encouragement to carry on Kennedy’s mission:
“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 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. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“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 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.”
We will all someday perish, as these two great men did, but during our lives, we can — and must — continue to promote their passion for our cherished American principles.