November 18, 2013

Skowhegan High Grad says ‘unfinished work’ cited in Gettysburg Address still looms

On 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s defining speech, former Maine resident and Lincoln scholar says Americans should reflect.

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

At the site of the pivotal battle of the Civil War, 150 years ago this afternoon, President Abraham Lincoln spoke of the “unfinished work” in the fight for equality.

Jared Peatman

Contributed photo

The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon 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 battle field 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 to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these hononored 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.

 

Source: Library of Congress

He spoke of a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

That short speech, the Gettysburg Address, became one of the defining speeches in this country’s history.

That unfinished work remains part of our national identity for civil rights, gender equality, wealth equality, access to education, health care and voting rights, according to Jared Peatman, a 1998 Skowhegan Area High School graduate and Lincoln scholar whose new book “The Long Shadow of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address” was released this month.

“I hope we go beyond just the recitation of the speech and actually think about the words and ask ourselves that question — have we fully lived up to the notion that Lincoln set forth in 1863?” said Peatman, who grew up in Canaan. “Assuming that we come to the conclusion that we probably haven’t, let’s think about what we can do to try to live up to that notion in the balance of our lives. I think it’s important we ask ourselves — does everybody in this country have equality of opportunity and if not, what can we do to try to achieve that.”

Peatman, 33, was a panel member for the three-day Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg, which ended Monday and featured activities and projects about Lincoln, the Civil War and the legacy of the address. Peatman said there were about 300 people in attendance for this year’s Lincoln Forum, which, now in its 20th year, is an assembly of people who share an interest in the life and times of Lincoln and the Civil War era.

Today he will participate in more forums to discuss the speech and what has been accomplished in terms of equality and democracy, both here and in other countries, he said.

There also will be book signings today and an appearance on a local ABC television affiliate.

The opening words of the speech, “Four score and seven years ago ...” refers to the signing of the Declaration of Independence 87 years earlier as the nation’s founding philosophy. Peatman said Lincoln was trying to draw Americans of the 1860s away the language of the Constitution, which the president saw as a document that promoted and supported slavery.

“He’s trying to reorient the nation around that founding principle that all men are created equal,” he said. “He’s trying to move away from the Constitution, which in 11 places mentions slavery — it never says the word — but it does say to strengthen, protect and preserve slavery.”

In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln is asking Americans to establish the Declaration of Independence as the nation’s founding moment with the words “all men are created equal,” he said.

Peatman said Lincoln believed that peace without emancipation would result in only a temporary halt to civil unrest in the country. The president believed that if United States did not abolish slavery, there be more war in the next 10 years.

“Lincoln is someone who believed in equality of opportunity, that everybody should have a fair and equal chance,” he said. “And that was the principle that he was really dedicating the nation to in 1863.”

Peatman, the director of curriculum at the Lincoln Leadership Institute in Gettysburg, a school that creates leadership development events for government and corporate groups using history, such as the Battle of Gettysburg, as metaphor to teach market strategies and communication and negotiation skills.

He began studying the Civil War and taking family trips to Gettysburg when he was 12. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Gettysburg College, a master’s from Virginia Tech, and Ph.D. from Texas A&M University.

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