“To many he [Lincoln] seemed like a minor prophet come back to life out of the Old Testament.”
—John Dos Passos
With his carefully crafted two-minute speech at Gettysburg, the best political address in the nation's history, Lincoln created a Nomos, a world of norms and meaning, for comprehending the mass slaughter on American soil. The new understanding of why we were in mourning pointed to a resolution of the conflict and the beginnings of a new constitutional order. Rereading the speech now as the preamble to that new order, we can begin to understand the significance of the phrases so carefully chosen. The words of the Gettysburg Address are too powerful, they represent too much concentrated energy and wisdom, to be absorbed in the two minutes that it takes to read them slowly. I suggest that we proceed and listen, sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase, to these words heard so often.
The first sentence states the heart of the matter and sums up the past, present, and future of the American commitment. 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. This sentence alone was enough to formulate the preamble to the new constitution. It harbingers the themes that follow in the address and that will come to dominate American life for the rest of the