Unity and Fellowship
By Rep. Kristi Noem
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Gettysburg battlefield and the cemetery where President Lincoln delivered his famous address. Today, scattered throughout the hills that made up the fighting plain are statues, markers, and memorials dedicated to those who fought. Toward the middle of the battlefield stands the Eternal Light Peace Memorial with the inscription: “an enduring light to guide us in unity and fellowship.”
Even after I left Gettysburg that day, those words stayed with me. The founding principles that created unity and fellowship during the American Revolution were being put to the ultimate test during the Civil War, and it was uncertain whether a nation founded on the idea of liberty could long endure. At the time, we were not only divided as countrymen, we were divided as families and communities – brothers fighting brothers, neighbors fighting neighbors.
Of course, we know now that this nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal did endure – and not only did we endure, but we have prospered. That prosperity is a testament to the American people and the principles we share – principles first written in the Declaration of Independence: “that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is these values we celebrate each Fourth of July.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East. During a meeting with the Egyptian Parliament, we received a number of questions about where America stood and what we stood for. It was deeply concerning to me that our allies were uncertain about this. We told them we were on the side of democracy. We believe our rights are God-given, not government-given, and that’s why we support free elections. The conversation underscored why it is so critical to have leaders and a general public who understand our history and the principles we’ve proclaimed for the last 240 years.
The Battle of Gettysburg drew to a close just hours before Independence Day 1863. Four months later, President Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address on the battlefield, dedicating a national cemetery to those who “gave their lives that [this] nation might live.” I would note that not only did these men give their lives so that our nation might live; they, and many since, gave their lives so that the promise of freedom, democracy, and liberty may endure as well.
As we celebrate our independence, I hope you take a moment to thank those who have fought to defend our values and reflect on the fact that these principles still serve as an enduring light to guide America in unity and fellowship. Have a happy and safe Independence Day.