As the mother of a fifth grader who has been “distance learning” since March, I have been reminded (and sometimes pulled into) what kids learn in the fifth grade. This past week, my son was introduced to one of the greatest speeches of all time, The Gettysburg Address.
Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, my son’s class learned about President Lincoln’s powerful speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. As the Civil War raged on in 1863, Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to dedicate a cemetery to fallen Union soldiers.
Lincoln’s speech was delivered to approximately 15,000 people and it took him only two minutes to deliver. The speech was fewer than 275 words. When he was finished, the crowd was silent. Lincoln thought he had failed to connect with the crowd and worried the speech was a failure. It was not.
Today, The Gettysburg Address is arguably one of the most-quoted and well-known speeches in our American history. In those two minutes Lincoln reminded Americans they must ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The Memorial Day holiday originated in those years immediately after the Civil War. In 1868, a decree was issued there should be a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War. The holiday was dubbed “Decoration Day,” and Americans decorated the gravesites of the fallen.
Through the years, the holiday changed so that it honored fallen soldiers from all conflicts and Memorial Day was officially made a federal holiday in 1971.
For most Americans, this Memorial Day weekend will be very different. There will not be large gatherings around the grill, pool parties and fireworks. Social distancing guidelines and stay at home orders have changed our typical, celebratory approach to the unofficial beginning of summer.
What hasn’t changed is the reason for the holiday. It took President Lincoln two minutes on that field in Gettysburg, to remind us of our American ideals. This weekend, take two minutes to honor our soldiers who gave their lives in pursuit of those ideals.
“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 can never forget what they did here.”—Abraham Lincoln