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Lincoln's Gettysburg address: not long, but long remembered

Within the week America notes the anniversaries of two somber events. One is the 25th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, on Nov. 22, 1963. In news and feature programming television this week repeatedly revisits the tragic scenes and explores the loose threads that dangle yet from an investigation that satisfied hardly anyone. At week's end few Americans, with or without personal memories of that day, will be unaware of what occurred then.

The second anniversary is also somber and historic, yet is today not well publicized. Technically it is the 125th anniversary of dedication of the Gettysburg (Pa.) National Cemetery, which occurred on Nov. 19, 1863. But most Americans know it indelibly as the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

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Although Lincoln was not the major orator at the dedication, he gave much thought to what he would say, despite the myth that he had offhandedly scribbled his speech on the back of an envelope. Ultimately Lincoln would write his speech five times, some before and some after the occasion.

Lincoln arrived in Gettysburg by train on Nov. 18, 1863, and stayed the night in town at the home of a local lawyer.

That evening in the private home where he stayed the President polished his brief speech. He is said to have gone to the nearby house where Secretary of State William Seward was staying to discuss the changes. In the morning he wrote one more copy of the address, which he was to hold when he gave it.

Lincoln made the brief trip by horseback to the cemetery, on the edge of the battlefield. Here, 4 months earlier, had been fought what was immediately recognized as one of the climactic battles of the war.

Here is the fifth version of the Gettysburg address, which some historians believe is closest to what he actually said:

``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.

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``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.''

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