You are about to return to your homes and your friends, after
having, as I learn, performed in camp a comparatively short
term of duty in this great contest. I am greatly obliged to you,
and to all who have come forward at the call of their country.
I wish it might be more generally and universally understood
what the country is now engaged in. We have, as all will agree,
a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal
with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of
Government and every form of human right is endangered if
our enemies succeed. There is more involved in this contest
than is realized by every one. There is involved in this struggle
the question whether your children and my children shall enjoy
the privileges we have enjoyed. I say this in order to impress
upon you, if you are not already so impressed, that no small
matter should divert us from our great purpose. There may be
some irregularities in the practical application of our system.
It is fair that each man shall pay taxes in exact proportion to
the value of his property; but if we should wait before collecting
a tax to adjust the taxes upon each man in exact proportion
with every other man, we should never collect any tax at all.
There may be mistakes made sometimes; things may be done
wrong while the officers of the Government do all they can to
prevent mistakes. But I beg of you, as citizens of this great
Republic, not to let your minds to carried off from the great work
we have before us. This struggle is too large for you to be
diverted from it by any small matter. When you return to your
homes rise up to the height of a generation of men worthy of
a free Government, and we will carry out the great work we
have commenced. I return to you my sincere thanks, soldiers,
for the honor you have done me this afternoon.
(Washington, D.C., August 18, 1864)