Prof. Hancock explores why Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is still important

Prof. Scott Hancock recently discussed Lincoln's views on slavery and inequality, and why his Gettysburg Address is still important today, 150 years after it was delivered:

As he is preparing the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln is considering the loss of life at Gettysburg. He probably would have seen the sacrifice of all those soldiers, particularly the loss of Union life, as a waste if the nation had somehow permitted the continued existence of slavery. So for Lincoln, there is no other solution but continue the fight for equality until it is resolved.

Lincoln represents how we want to see ourselves. We want to see ourselves as people who will do what is right, no matter the circumstances, and that ultimately achieve those ideals the nation was founded on. However, freedom without other kinds of equalities is severely compromised, and that is what we are still struggling to figure out: how we make those legacies of the Civil War manifest in tangible ways today.

In many respects, we may have overlooked how the black men and women who fought for the Union as soldiers, laborers, and spies were a critical part of the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln does refer to them, and it would be pure speculation to say he had them in mind. Nonetheless, it is doubtful that anyone is more determined or has more at stake for completing the mission that the Gettysburg Address laid before the nation than the tens of thousands of African Americans who invested directly and indirectly in the Union cause.

Today, it's important to consider a speech like the Gettysburg Address, because the United States never completed the mission of "a new birth of freedom." The death of Reconstruction transformed the inequities of slavery into new forms for at least another century. Redlining, government housing decisions, and a complex web of public policies prevented redress long past the Civil Rights movement. The result of four centuries of systematic inequity: according to the 2010 census, average wealth assets for a white American is just over $110,000, while the average for an African American is $4,995.

That's not equality. And a compromised equality is compromised freedom. The Gettysburg Address called us to do better and to make the sacrifice of thousands matter. Another 150 years cannot be allowed to pass with the work unfinished.