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Obama: Gettysburg is relevant today

President Barack Obama has linked the legacy of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to gay rights, women's issues and modern technological transformations as thousands gathered on the Civil War battlefield where the famous speech was given 150 years ago.

The inspirational and famously short Gettysburg Address was praised for reinvigorating ideals of freedom, liberty and justice amid a war that had torn the country apart over slavery.

Mr Obama, in a handwritten essay released by the White House, said: "Lincoln's words give us confidence that whatever trials await us, this nation and the freedom we cherish can, and shall, prevail."

Lincoln's speech was meant to mark the dedication of a cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of a major 1863 battle that left tens of thousands of men wounded, dead or missing.

But the speech also came as Lincoln's reasons for fighting the war were evolving. He spoke of how democracy rested upon "the proposition that all men are created equal", a profound and politically risky statement for the time.

The speech has become as much a part of American culture as the national anthem and Declaration of Independence, memorised by countless US schoolchildren over the decades, even though no definitive edition exists.

Echoing Lincoln, keynote speaker and Civil War historian James McPherson said the president spoke at a time when it looked like the nation "might indeed perish from the earth".

Though Lincoln's speech is celebrated now, it was not immediately recognised as a towering literary achievement.

Just last week, The Patriot-News in nearby Harrisburg retracted a dismissive editorial about the speech published by its Civil War-era predecessor, The Harrisburg Patriot & Union. The paper now says it regrets the error of not seeing its "momentous importance, timeless eloquence and lasting significance".

The ideals expressed in the speech were not also necessarily a reflection of reality. Only a few years after the war, a separate cemetery for black Civil War veterans was created in Gettysburg because they were "denied burial in the National Cemetery because of segregation policies", according to a historical marker placed in 2003.

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