When the winners of the 2004 Pulitzer Prizes were announced last month, no prize was awarded in the category of feature writing, even though the candidates were strong. One reason for this -- a reason never officially disclosed -- is that in light of recent reporting fabrication scandals, some judges were suspicious of unattributed, imprecise or anonymous sourcing. (True fact: I learned this from several Pulitzer sources, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity.)

Some journalists feel this decision was a mistake -- that if the elaborate attribution appropriate to news reporting is required of human-interest stories, good writing will be destroyed.

That's silly. Any piece of great writing can only be improved through meticulous attribution.

BREAK Four score and seven years ago, according to the Gregorian calendar and rounding to the nearest year, our Fathers{+1} brought forth on this continent{+2} a new nation, conceived in liberty, said Declaration of Independence co-author Thomas Jefferson, and dedicated to the proposition that, as Jefferson put it, "all men are created equal."

Now, according to the most recent dispatches from the front, we are engaged in a great civil war -- unless a surrender has been negotiated and word has yet to reach us here because of the great distances and limitations of the speed of horses{+3} -- 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, its location verifiable by a certain disagreeable odor in the air. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field -- specifically 7.4 hectares on the east-central quadrant -- as a final{+5} resting{+6} place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, according to accepted Judeo-Christian burial practices as outlined in the Book of Common Prayer and biblical sources.

But in a larger sense -- and this is my personal opinion, unfortunately unverifiable -- we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men,{+9} living and dead, who struggled here -- though, in fairness, we must acknowledge it is possible that, for some, death occurred without struggle, a single mortal blow delivered in the initial moment of conflict -- have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here{+1}{+0}, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living -- by whom we mean, according to Aristotle, those possessing the power of self-nourishment but who additionally, according to Descartes, possess sentience and self-knowledge -- rather to be dedicated here 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. This is not to suggest that there is a single cause for which all men in this conflict fight -- they fight for disparate reasons, both noble and ignoble, the latter including the fact that Army camps provide plentiful access to inexpensive prostitutes.

Still, 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, to echo a phrase popularized by James Madison in his preamble to the Constitution of the United States,{+1}{+1} by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


{+1} As referred to in The Life of George Washington, Weems (1800).

{+2} Vespucci, Amerigo, as designated in "Letter to Lorenzo Medici" (1501).

{+3} Twenty-five to 30 mph at a sustained gallop, depending largely on breed, conditioning and terrain.{+4}

{+4} P. Astley, Astley's System of Equestrian Education (1802).

{+5} Some might debate whether "final" is an appropriate term for a person's resting place, because in most contemporary religions the soul is said to migrate elsewhere.

{+6}Though, technically, it should be noted, those whose destination is Hell and not Heaven are not currently "resting" but are instead suffering boils and blisters and other injuries sustained by exposure to sulfurous hellfire;{+7} those few who might be Muslim sinners will have filled their bellies with the tree of Zaqqoom and drunk of scalding water, "like a thirsty camel."{+8}

{+7} The Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, including the Psalter of the Psalms of David, J.B. Lippencott (1858).

{+8} The Koran 56:52-55

{+9} The U.S. Army admits only male adults, and therefore the author specifies "men." It is theoretically possible, however, that some who fought at Gettysburg were either minors who represented themselves as adults or women who were able to pass as men because they had small bosoms.

{+1}{+0}The author notes, in all candor, that he has spent days crafting this speech in the very hope that that which he predicts -- the speech's historical insignificance -- will not come true. In truth, he intends this speech to concisely summarize the noblest arguments for the prosecution of this war, and thus to become a monument to his presidency and, indeed, a philosophical foundation upon which a just and lasting peace may be constructed.

{+1}{+1} By "the people," Madison meant "white people with male genitalia," but those were intolerant and backward times. In this instance, of course, by "the people" we envision ALL people with male genitalia.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.