Status: Complete


Friends and Fellow-Citizens: Tarry here for a moment. My words shall be
few and simple. The solemn rites of this hour and place call for no length-
ened speech. There is in the very air of this resting ground of the unknown
dead a silent, subtle, and an all-pervading eloquence, far more touching,
impressive, and thrilling than living lips have ever uttered. Into the meas-
ureless depths of every loyal soul it is now whispering lessons of all that is
most precious, price-less, holiest, and most enduring in human existence.

Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay
grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring today is
due alike to the patriot soldiers dead, and their noble comrades who still
live, for, whether living or dead—whether in time or eternity, the loyal
soldiers who periled all for country and freedom, are one and inseparable.

Those unknown heroes, whose whitened bones have been piously
gathered here, and whose green graves we now strew with sweet and
beautiful flowers, choice emblems alike of pure hearts and brave spirits,
reached in their glorious career that last and highest point of nobleness,
beyond which human power cannot go! They died for their country!

No loftier tribute can be paid to the most illustrious of all the benefac-
tors of mankind than we pay to these unrecognized soldiers when we write
above their graves this shining epitaph.

When the dark and vengeful spirit of slavery, always ambitious, prefer-
ring to rule in hell than to serve in heaven,¹ fired the Southern heart, and
stirred all the malign elements of discord; when our great Republic, the
hope of freedom and self-government throughout the world, had reached
the point of supreme peril; where the union of these States was torn and rent
asunder at the center, and the armies of a gigantic rebellion came forth with
broad blades and bloody hands to destroy the very foundation of American
society, the unknown braves who slumber in these graves flung themselves
into the yawning chasm where cannon roared and bullets whistled, fought
and fell. They died for their country!

We are sometimes asked in the name of patriotism to forget the merits
of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who
struck at the nation’s life, and those who struck to save it—those who
fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice.

I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not
repel the repentant, but may my right hand forget its cunning, and my

1. Douglass paraphrases a statement by Satan in John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 261 —

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