On April 12, 1861, artillery guns boomed across Charleston
Harbor in an attack on Fort Sumter. These were the first shots
of a civil war that would stretch across 4 years of tremendous
sacrifice, with over 3 million Americans serving in battles
whose names reach across our history. The meaning of freedom
and the very soul of our Nation were contested in the hills of
Gettysburg and the roads of Antietam, the fields of Manassas
and the woods of the Wilderness. When the terrible and costly
struggle was over, a new meaning was conferred on our country’s
name — the United States of America. We might be tested, but
whatever our fate might be, it would be as one Nation.
The Civil War was a conflict characterized by legendary
acts of bravery in the face of unprecedented carnage. Those
who lived in these times — from the resolute African American
soldier volunteering his life for the liberation of his fellow
man to the determined President secure in the rightness of his
cause — brought a new birth of freedom to a country still
mending its divisions.
On this milestone in American history, we remember the
great cost of the unity and liberty we now enjoy, causes for
which so many have laid down their lives. Though America would
struggle to extend equal rights to all our citizens and carry
out the letter of our laws after the war, the sacrifices of
soldiers, sailors, Marines, abolitionists, and countless other
Americans would bring a renewed significance to the liberties
established by our Founders. When the guns fell silent and the
fate of our Nation was secured, blue and gray would unite under
one flag and the institution of slavery would be forever
abolished from our land.
As a result of the sacrifice of millions, we would extend
the promise and freedom enshrined in our Constitution to all
Americans. Through the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, we
would prohibit slavery and indentured servitude, establish equal
protection under the law, and extend the right to vote to former
slaves. We would reach for a more perfect Union together as
Americans, bound by the collective threads of history and our
common hopes for the future.
We are the United States of America — we have been
tested, we have repaired our Union, and we have emerged
stronger. As we respond to the critical challenges of our
time, let us do so as adherents to the enduring values of our
founding and stakeholders in the promise of a shared tomorrow.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the
United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in
me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do
hereby proclaim April 12, 2011, as the first day of the Civil
War Sesquicentennial. I call upon all Americans to observe this
Sesquicentennial with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and
activities that honor the legacy of freedom and unity that the
Civil War bestowed upon our Nation.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
twelfth day of April, in the year of our Lord
two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the
United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.