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Memorial Day Address at Gettysburg Battlefield

May 30, 1930

Fellow Countrymen:

We stand today amidst monuments to the valor and glory of a generation of Americans, North and South, now well-nigh gone. Most of those who bore the burdens of the Civil War have joined their comrades who sleep beneath these mounds. Of a thousand brigades which marched in that great conflict, scarce a score remain.

To the dead we pay again our tribute of gratitude and devotion. To the living we extend heartfelt wishes for a continuation of peaceful years, serene in contemplation of their glorious youth. The time must come all too soon when these living ties of our generation with the historic past will have passed on. Then we shall have only cherished memories to remind us of those men who heroically died and those women who bravely suffered for great ideals, or who lived on to consummate the reunion of our country, to give stability to its Government, and peace to its people.

Every American's thought of this great battlefield of Gettysburg flashes with the instant vision of the lonely figure of Lincoln, whose immortal words dominate this scene. No monument has been or can be erected here so noble and enduring as that simple address which has become a part of this place. Greater than the tribute of granite or bronze remains that memorable message to the American people. That appeal for the unity of our people and the perpetuation of the fundamentals of our democracy is as vital today in our national thinking as it was when Lincoln spoke. Behind him were the 70 years of national experience that had passed between himself and Washington. His words from their span of the past rang with courage and assurance for the future. Though no President has been so beset, though no time in our history has been so dark, though never have strong men been so affected with doubts, yet in the midst of all that turmoil he found strength to lift his head above the clouds and proclaim that vision which the passing years have so fully confirmed.

Today nearly 70 years have passed since Lincoln spoke. Ours is a new day and ours new problems of the Republic. There are times when these problems loom ominous and their solution difficult. Yet great as our difficulties may sometimes seem, we would be of little courage if in our concerns we had less of faith than Lincoln had in his far greater task.

Lincoln's counsels sounded strangely when spoken in the midst of war. His was the call of moderation. Our history would be even brighter than it is if his predecessors and his contemporaries had spoken as temperately as he, if they had been moved by charity toward all, by malice toward none.

We shall be wise to ponder here what precious wealth of human life might have been preserved, what rivers of tears might never have flowed, what anguish of souls need never have been, what spiritual division of our people might have been avoided, if only our leadership had always been tempered by the moderation and calm vision of Lincoln. Since his day reason has not always ruled instead of passion, knowledge has not always been sought instead of reliance upon improvised conjecture, patience has not ever delayed the impetuous feet of reckless ambition, quiet negotiation has not always replaced the clamor of the hustings, prudent common counsel has not invariably overcome the allurements of demagogic folly, good will has not always won the day over cynicism and vainglory. Yet the ideals which he inspired have served to mould our national life and have brought in time great spiritual unity. His words have poured their blessings of restraint and inspiration upon each new generation.

In the weaving of our destiny, the pattern may change, yet the woof and warp of our weaving must be those inspired ideals of unity, of ordered liberty, of equality of opportunity, of popular government, and of peace to which this Nation was dedicated. Whatever the terms may be in which we enunciate these great ideals, whatever the new conditions to which we apply them, they must be held eternally valid. The common striving for these ideals, our common heritage as Americans, and the infinite web of national sentiment--these are the things that have made us a great nation, that have created a solidarity in a great people unparalleled in all human history.

The weaving of freedom is and always will be a struggle of law against lawlessness, of individual liberty against domination, of unity against sectionalism, of truth and honesty against demagoguery and misleading, of peace against fear and conflict. In the forming of this pattern, the abuse of politics often muddies the stream of constructive thought and dams back the flow of well-considered action.

In the solution of the problems of our times we have some new lamps to guide us. The light of science has revealed to us a new understanding of forces and a myriad of instruments of physical ease and comfort to add to the joy of life. The growth of communications, of education, of the press, have made possible a new unity of thought and purpose. But the light that guides our souls remains the same as that whereby our fathers were led. It is the store of knowledge, the great inspirations of men's souls, the ideals which they carry forward, that have lifted the Nation to ever greater heights.

The Union has become not merely a physical union of States, but rather is a spiritual union in common ideals of our people. Within it is room for every variety of opinion, every possibility of experiment in social progress. Out of such variety comes growth, but only if we preserve and maintain our spiritual solidarity.

The things of the spirit alone persist. It is in that field that the Nation makes its lasting progress. To cherish religious faith and the tolerance of all faiths; to reflect into every aspect of public life the spirit of charity, the practice of forbearance, and the restraint of passion while reason seeks the way; to lay aside blind prejudice and follow knowledge together; to pursue diligently the common welfare and find within its boundaries our private benefit; to enlarge the borders of opportunity for all and find our own within them; to enhance the greatness of the Nation and thereby find for ourselves an individual distinction; to face with courage and confident expectation the task set before us, these are the paths of true glory for this Nation. They will lead us to a life more abounding, richer in satisfactions, more enduring in its achievements, more precious in its bequest to our children--a life not merely of conflict but filled with the joy of creative action.

Note: The President spoke at 2:30 p.m. at memorial ceremonies on Cemetery Hill. The address was carried over national radio networks.

Herbert Hoover, Memorial Day Address at Gettysburg Battlefield Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/210331

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