To Abraham Lincoln, and to many abolitionists of the 1850s -60s, there was evidence that American society was moving in the opposite direction from these ideals, in such events as the Fugitive Slave Act, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scot decision of the Supreme Court, and the gag rule in the South. They believed that the nation was losing the "moral identity" that they saw first stated in the Declaration of Independence. At Gettysburg battlefield, Lincoln appealed to ideals of equality and popular government that he saw expressed in the Declaration.
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 battle field of that war. We have 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,
to stand here, we here be dedica-ted 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.
Abraham Lincoln, Draft of the Gettysburg Address: Nicolay Copy, November 1863; Series 3, General Correspondence, 1837-1897; The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (Washington, D. C.: American Memory Project, [2000-02]), http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/alhtml/alhome.html.