This timelessness of the ultimate cause over which the battle at Gettysburg was fought is not lost on Lincoln, and he addresses it in the longest sentence in his speech.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (Lincoln 2235)
Lincoln here sums up the entire point of his address. As he has said earlier, it is not simply enough to dedicate the ground at Gettysburg. It is not enough to make a pretty speech–whether two minutes or two hours long. It is not enough, either, to be dedicated to the “unfinished task” (Lincoln 2235). This task is, “explicitly, the completion of the war” (Kaplan 351). Implicitly, however, it is not simply the completion of the war. Instead, the insinuation is the great task as the “perpetuation of the republic as a text constantly being rewritten” (Kaplan 351). The republic, as Lincoln’s speech, could not have been formulated in one try and without great care. It required, and still requires, rewriting.
As Lincoln rewrote his address so as to be absolutely sure it said precisely what he intended it to say, this more perfect Union must also be rewritten so as to be sure it does exactly what it was intended to do. Unfortunately there is no prescribed formula for writing a dedication speech for one of the greatest battles in American history or for maintaining that more perfect Union that governs the American people. But the formula Lincoln foresaw implementing at Gettysburg in 1863 was an
extension of the basic principles of that unique experiment, a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” pushed beyond the limits that its eighteenth-century founders had established to a more open and inclusive embrace of democratic equality. (Kaplan 351)
This included creating a “policy and set of conditions the result of which would be national reconciliation and a stronger union” (Kaplan 351) and spurring the “regeneration of the geographical and ideological wholeness of the nation” (Kaplan 351). The nation had nearly been torn apart, and it would not be easy to put it back together. It would require a broadened definition of equality, one that was broader than that of the founding fathers. It would require a method of reconstruction that would prompt reconciliation and forge stronger ties between north and south. It meant regaining a sense of national unity.