GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Without Abraham Lincoln's words and leadership, Americans likely would be citizens of two or more nations in a "Disunited States."
That was the message on Tuesday from historian James McPherson during his keynote address at the 150th anniversary commemoration of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
In his brief speech, Lincoln made the case for keeping the republic together and for living up to the claim in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal." Lincoln's efforts to end enslavement of 4 million African-Americans helped to assure that all Americans remain free, Mr. McPherson said. A Pulitzer Prize-winner, Mr. McPherson is professor emeritus of United States history at Princeton University.
Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg four months after the bloodiest battle of the Civil War was fought there. The occasion was the dedication Nov. 19, 1863, of a national cemetery where about 3,500 of those killed in the fight were buried. Hundreds were never identified. They since have been joined by another 2,500 service members who fought in the nation's other conflicts and some family members.
Bryce Stenzel said he and two friends came from New Ulm, Minn., to Adams County to be part of the commemoration events.
In his two-minute address, Lincoln reminded his listeners that they owed a duty to the soldiers who died there to assure that "government of the people, by the people, for the people" would endure.
"You have to do more than just lay down some bouquets of flowers," Mr. Stenzel said. "You have to be ready to fight for national principles."
Mr. Stenzel and his friends, Bill Harris and John Fritsche, were dressed in the uniforms of the Minnesota Home Guard, who fought Native-Americans from the Dakota tribe during a frontier war in 1862.
They were among the thousands of people who crowded into the National Cemetery under mostly sunny skies. Many were re-enactors wearing uniforms of Civil War military units or civilian clothing from that era. Their ranks included at least a dozen people portraying Lincoln.
Frank Orlando, a Robert E. Lee presenter, was one of the few people dressed in Confederate gray. Mr. Orlando, a Gettysburg resident, said he was there to promote reconciliation. "My presence will prove that we are one nation once again," he said.
"I'd make sergeant if I captured you," Mike Wood joked. Mr. Wood, who lives in Richmond, Mich., was wearing the uniform of a Civil War cavalryman from his home state.
Michael E. Crutcher Sr., who portrays abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, said Lincoln's speech gave black Americans hope for freedom, justice and equality. The fight for equality continues in 2013, he said.
National Park Service historian John Heiser said Tuesday's temperatures in the 40s and blue-sky conditions were similar to those of 150 years ago. At least 10,000 people were present for the 1863 dedication, he said.
The National Park Service set out 3,500 chairs for Tuesday's Dedication Day ceremony, which took place very close to where the original event happened. Every chair was filled by the time the program started at 10 a.m., and many hundreds more people stood around the stage at the south end of the cemetery.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell shared the role of keynote speakers with Mr. McPherson. Neither Ms. Jewell nor Mr. McPherson came close to making a two-hour speech such as the one Edward Everett delivered at the cemetery dedication in 1863. Lincoln followed Everett.
Mr. Jewell pledged to keep her remarks to no more than the 272 words Lincoln used in his speech.
The United States is still on a journey to assure that all men and women are treated equally, she said. That journey is helped along by the words spoken by patriots who include Nathan Hale, Franklin Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer and Lincoln, she said.
Gov. Tom Corbett; Pennsylvania's U.S. senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey; and U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, whose district includes Gettysburg, all spoke briefly.
Park Ranger Morgan Brooks read greetings sent by President Barack Obama, who declined an invitation to attend the sesquicentennial event. Mr. Obama wrote that he sometimes goes into the room in the White House that Lincoln used as his office. In that room is a copy of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln's hand. "What Lincoln understood ... was that this self-evident truth [that all men are created equal] was not self-executed," Mr. Obama wrote. It had required "blood drawn by a sword to achieve it."
Speaking in a high tenor voice with a Midwestern twang, Lincoln presenter James Getty delivered the 16th president's original speech.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the son of an immigrant father from Sicily, administered the oath of allegiance to 16 people from 13 nations who became citizens during the program.
America offers freedom and opportunity, but requires bravery, Mr. Scalia told the new citizens. Americans are unique in that they are united not by blood, color, race or birthplace, but by fidelity to political principles, he said.
While all the day's many speakers were applauded warmly, only the new citizens received a standing ovation after they took their oaths.
The Dedication Day event was followed by a military salute to U.S. Colored Troops at the grave of Charles H. Parker, an African-American soldier. He is buried on the western side of the cemetery.
The commemorative event was sponsored by Gettysburg National Military Park, the Gettysburg Foundation, the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania and Gettysburg College.
Commemorative activities will continue this weekend with the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies Saturday. Traditional events will include a memorial service at 11 a.m. on the battlefield at Ziegler's Grove. It will be followed by a parade downtown starting at 1 p.m. and an illumination at the cemetery from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Almost 3,500 candles will be placed on Civil War soldiers' graves that evening.
Len Barcousky: email@example.com or 724-772-0184.