This week marks the anniversary of two of the most important events in our nation’s history. On Nov. 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. One hundred years and three days later, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. Today, the nation’s youth remember Lincoln’s speech only through the pages of history; we recall Kennedy’s death through the striking clarity of our parents’ memories. I hope we all take a moment to appreciate the significance of both.
The Gettysburg Address defines America. We read Lincoln’s words and are immediately imbued with a sense of our country’s purpose. Lincoln, however, enunciated his immortal words in an effort to define the civil war. He called the war a test of whether a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal could survive. After a terrible battle, Lincoln reminded America that the soldiers’ lives were not lost in vain. Lincoln gave the nation hope.
The hope that Lincoln awakened at Gettysburg was the same hope extinguished on the day John F. Kennedy died. The assassination ended the promise of the New Frontier. Unlike Lincoln, Kennedy was struck down before he accomplished his mission. That mission remains unfulfilled even today. My generation still searches for a leader who inspires us the way he inspired our parents, who engages us in political discourse, and who brings us all closer to the spirit of the nation.
Both Lincoln and Kennedy guided the country through peril. Both men gave their lives for their country. Both remain beloved. Lincoln said at Gettysburg that the world would “little note, nor long remember what we say here.” He could not have been more wrong. His speech, and all the speeches and memories of Lincoln and Kennedy, will endure in this country forever.
Benjamin L. Schiffrin
Nov. 21, 2003
The writer, a third-year student at Harvard Law School, is secretary-treasurer of the HLS Democrats.