Gratitude is a Catalyst: Gratitude and the Gettysburg Address

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In the United States, the fourth Thursday of November is set aside as a day of Thanksgiving. 

It was formally established by President Abraham Lincoln in the middle of the Civil War on October 3rd, 1863, after the battle in Gettysburg, Virginia, one of the bloodiest in the war. 

The legend says that Lincoln wrote what is now known as the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope in his carriage, while riding from Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg. That's not entirely accurate. The speech was written for the dedication of the battlefield as a national cemetery, and delivered as a speech in November of 1863.


Since more than 50,000 men, along with horses, and donkeys who died in the battle, even four months later, they were not all able to be buried prior to Lincoln’s arrival to consecrate the battlefield.


Can you imagine being the leader of a country, currently being torn apart by civil war, looking at the deaths of thousands of your countrymen, and finding gratitude in your heart? I certainly would struggle to do so. 


While a speech had been previously prepared, he was so moved on seeing the field he made changes in his seat. Imagine hearing this famous text for the first time, standing in a field pock-marked with cannon shot and gravestones.

     Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

     Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

    It is rather for us, the living, we here, be dedicated to the great task remaining before us that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, 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.

The address is one of the shortest in American presidential history at 272 words, and less than five minutes, but man! What an impact!


 Later, in 1941, with most of the world already embroiled in World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt made Thanksgiving the nationally recognized American holiday we know today. 

I read recently that, “gratitude is a catalyst. A catalyst is defined as a substance that, when added to a solution, accelerates the desired effect.”


In his speech, Lincoln's gratitude for the soldiers' sacrifice provided a much-needed catalyst to continue to push for a quick-as-possible end to the conflict. Gettysburg was later known as the turning point of the Civil War.

Intentional gratitude, or thanksgiving, speeds the desired effects of whatever process to which you add it. 

Want more opportunities? Make time to specifically identify current opportunities and express your gratitude and appreciation for each one, and possibly even to each one. 

Want more quality time with family? Make a point of sharing your gratitude for the moments you currently have. 

When we take the time to identify and express gratitude internally, we can take it a step farther by also sharing our thanks with others. When we do, it creates a ripple effect of kindness.

Think about it. You’re at your favorite coffee shop, and a stranger pays for your coffee before you even order. 

What do you do?

More than likely, out of gratitude your coffee was paid for, you spend the money you had already planned on spending, to buy the coffee for the person behind you.  

Even if the gesture is not immediately replicated, the effect is still accelerated because of the persons touched.

The barista.
The person in front of you who purchased. 

The person behind you who heard. 

Gratitude not only accelerates, it inspires hope. 

And that is something we can all definitely use more of.