Young at only 239, I always think of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address around the Fourth of July.
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 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.
Liberty is the recurring theme. Those who risked the Atlantic crossing sought more than they had or hoped to gain in the countries they left. The diversity of the settlers from Europe attests to the widespread desire of people from many nations to find a place where there could reap the rewards of their own labor and practice their Religion.
Individually their presence was of little consequence to the continent, but collectively they replaced an indigenous culture that was so foreign to the settlers that they could not adopt it. Neither could the native cultures assimilate the new arrivals. Technology and numbers made it possible to overrun the existing population. Such is the story of conquest that has spanned millennia of human history.
Celebrating 239 years of this experiment in self-rule makes me wonder how long this experiment can go on before it collapses or becomes unrecognizable to the original concepts. My fear is that we are the frog sitting in the cooking pot as it is slowly heated.