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Editorial: A new birth for freedom

President Calvin Coolidge was correct. “The charge at Gettysburg has few, if any, equals and no superiors,” he said at the 1929 dedication of the William Colvill memorial in Cannon Falls.

The Battle of Gettysburg raged for three days 150 years ago, but the 1st Minnesota’s dramatic charge — led by a former Red Wing newspaper editor, of all people — saved not only the day (July 2) but the battle, the Union Army and, some historians contend, the union we can still call the United States of America.

Traditionally, the nation focuses on the Revolutionary War each Fourth of July. This year, halfway through the Civil War sesquicentennial, we look to the 262 brave Minnesota soldiers who defied Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North. They bought the Union Army precious time in the war’s bloodiest battle that had 51,000 casualties but proved the war’s turning point. They gave new life to our freedom.

Four months after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the “Gettysburg Address” at the cemetery dedication. The words are chiseled into the Lincoln Memorial. We invite you to engrain them in your mind as we celebrate Independence Day 2013: 

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.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot 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.