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290
ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA

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 lengthened 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 measureless 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 benefactors 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, preferring 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

I. Douglass paraphrases a statement by Satan in John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 261 —
63.

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