It was 154 years ago yesterday that Abraham Lincoln ascended a small stage at the newly created cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and gave a short address of some 272 words. The address was short and the shortness and quietness of it seemed to so catch the audience off guard that we don’t even have a uniform agreement about exactly what he said.
There is one line that seems to be consistent across all the first hand accounts and it captures the essence of the address completely:
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
By that, Lincoln meant that all the words about union and justice and honor add up to very little—what mattered was what those 3,155 men gave at Gettysburg. They gave their lives—their full measure of devotion as he put it—to those ideas. They didn’t simply talk about a new birth of freedom, they died so that it might be made to happen.
Though Lincoln’s words have been noted and long remembered, his message is easy to forget. It also happens to be the same message of Stoic philosophy: It’s not about what you say. It’s not about what you read. It’s what you do. It’s the resolve you show in crisis. It’s the sacrifices you’re willing to make that count.
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