Remember Gettysburg

Civil War battle fought July 1-3, 1863, was the second founding of America

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Paris will officially celebrate Independence Day today with fireworks, a band concert and other activities to  mark the founding of America.

But there is a second founding we should also remember and celebrate as we listen to the Paris Municipal Band play at 2 p.m. at Twin Lakes Park.

Each Fourth of July, Americans are reminded the freedom enjoyed today began with visionary hard-scramble colonists tossing off the yoke of the British Crown. This year, remember not only those patriots of July 4, 1776, but also those of a consequential battle that occurred in early July almost a century later — and the nation-changing words that grew out of it.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought in 1863 on the three days prior to July 4. President Abraham Lincoln dedicated a cemetery at Gettysburg with a short address — but one both poetic and momentous — that culminated in what scholars describe as the second founding of America. 

The Battle of Gettysburg marked the turning point in the Civil War, a conflict that threatened to shred the fragile Union. Lincoln’s words five months later were even more consequential as he talked of a nation fractured by slavery and backsliding from its founding principles.

In the seven years following the speech — which Lincoln wrongly predicted no one would remember — the nation passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution. These three changes abolished slavery, defined citizenship, guaranteed due process and equal protection and affirmed the right to vote regardless of race, color or servitude.

Those amendments fulfilled Lincoln’s Gettysburg promise of “a new birth of freedom” — a second founding. It’s difficult to fathom what our nation would look like today without these life-changing laws.

Though freedom has been under stress many times and in many ways since then, our nation has emerged each time on a path toward a better nation.

Let us remember today those who sacrificed at Gettysburg to ensure the great experiment that is America would continue. We must continue to work towards Lincoln’s  vision.