The following is a speech I delivered at Gettysburg National Cemetery on Dedication Day for the United States Colored Troops Gravesite Dedication on November 19, 2010:
To Preserve the Union for Liberty
The firm basis on which of our national identity was established was articulated in the Declaration of Independence: the Creator had endowed all men with certain unalienable rights. Thus the conviction in the minds of the people that liberty is a gift from God is the foundation of the house that is our nation. Concerned that the foundation was comprised by slavery, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; and his justice cannot sleep forever.” This founding father, the author of the Declaration of Independence, a slaveholder, feared that the conflict over the disposition of new territories as either slave or free might lead to a civil war. The house for which he had laid the foundation was divided, half slave and half free. If these United States were to remain united, if this Republic was to become a more perfect Union, if we the people were to ensure the domestic tranquility and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, then that peculiar American institution, slavery, had to be abolished.
Today we come together to honor those who gave the full measure of their devotion to preserve this Union for Liberty. In April 1861, when open hostilities began in that civil war that Jefferson feared, men of African descent could not legally stand and fight as soldiers in defense of their country, in the defense of their rights as citizens. In July 1862, after what Secretary of State William Seward called “the greatest disasters of the war,” Congress changed the law because the assistance Americans of African descent was needed to be preserve the Union. Nine days after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Militia Act of 1862 into law, James Molson, an Afro-Pennsylvanian, joined the 107th NY Volunteers. He fought with his American comrades of European descent at Antietam. With his comrades in battle, he fought here at Gettysburg; and he gave his life to preserve the Union for liberty during Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. Private Molson was like thousands of Americans who have willingly offered their lives that we might be a nation where all are indeed free. The soldier above all citizens is called upon to perform the most Christ-like duties, the soldier is called upon to sacrifice his life for others. Today we honor Americans who sacrificed to save the Union, and who sacrificed to secure what should be, what could be, liberty for all, oh liberty that precious gift from God.
On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln acting on the authority Congress had given him, with a practical military measure to preserve the Union, transformed the Civil War into a war for liberty. Armed with the Emancipation Proclamation, Americans of African descent helped save the Union while bringing about a new birth of freedom in our house, this nation, thus restoring the foundation, the firm conviction in the minds of the people that liberty is a gift from God.
As we go forth from these hollowed grounds, made hollowed by those who sacrificed that we might all be free, let us honor them by working to achieve in this house all that this nation can be, a land where liberty and justice are indeed for all. Do not let their sacrifices be in vain! May their blood stain our memories, and their examples increase our faith that we might march on as faithful Americans dedicated to keeping this Republic one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.