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Gettysburg Address

GETTYSBURG ADDRESS

GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. The Gettysburg Address was a brief oration delivered by President Abraham Lincoln on 19 November 1863 during the dedication ceremony of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The entire speech consisted of 272 words and took approximately three minutes to deliver. Its simple eloquence and evocation of transcendent themes are recognized as one of, if not the greatest, speech in American politics. Demonstrating the quintessence of Lincoln's thought concerning the sacred nature of liberty embodied in the democratic experiment, the address is heralded with transforming Northern opinion about the "unfinished work" of war before them and ultimately revolutionizing how Americans understood the nature of the Republic.

"On a Great Battle-Field of That War"

Since the opening days of July 1863, life in the town of Gettysburg and the surrounding area had been utterly transformed. During three days of battle, more than 85,000 Federals and nearly 65,000 Confederates clashed over a twenty-five-square-mile area. By the close of 3 July 1863 the number of dead, wounded, and missing from this single battle was unparalleled at the time. Nor would this level of destruction to human life be matched during the remainder of the war. Losses among the North's Army of the Potomac are conservatively estimated at more than 3,100 killed and approximately 14,500 woundedmore


than 2,000 of them mortallywith about 5,400 missing. Confederate casualties rates were higher. Of the 65,000 men under General Robert E. Lee's command, one-third were killed, wounded, or missing in battle. For the nearly 2,400 residents of Gettysburg, these staggering numbers proved to be nearly overwhelming. In the weeks and months that followed, the surrounding countryside served as a makeshift hospital and morgue for the region.

An estimated eight thousand human bodies, many buried with only a scant cover of earth, were scattered throughout the battlegrounds. While thousands of rotting animal carcasses were set ablaze to help alleviate potential health risks, in late August patients at the temporary hospital in the Lutheran Seminary still complained of illnesses caused by improperly buried human remains. The often-grisly task of reinterring human remains would continue through the following spring, with nearly one thousand bodies remaining unidentified.

Amid this destruction Lincoln and his two young secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, stepped off the train from Washington, D. C., to prepare for the commemoration ceremonies the following day. It is hard to imagine that the president could have envisioned that his planned remarks would elicit such purpose and meaning out of the devastation witnessed around him, but Lincoln was somehow up to the task. As one scholar has observed, the transformative power of the English language has rarely achieved such heights.

"Far Above Our Poor Power to Add or Detract"

Although through time we have come to identify Lincoln's remarks as "the" Gettysburg Address, in actuality the president was but one of five scheduled speakers to address the crowd that clear November afternoon. Such a designation would have come as a surprise to the ceremony organizers, who conceived of Lincoln's "dedicatory remarks," as they were listed in the program, as secondary to those of the day's main speaker, Edward Everett. An American statesman and scholar, Everett graduated from Harvard College in 1811 and returned to the school in 1819 as a professor of Greek. He quickly established himself as a scholar, becoming editor of the North American Review in 1820. Four years later he was elected a member of the U. S. House of Representatives. Following a decad in the House, Everett was elected governor of Massachusetts. He briefly returned to academia as president of Harvard from 1846 to 1849. Everett returned to Washington as secretary of state in 1852. The following year he entered the U. S. Senate. As one who had been schooled at the highest levels of public oratory for years, Everetta man praised by former students such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and one of the nation's most popular oratorsseemed to be a natural selection for such an important occasion. In addition to Lincoln, those scheduled to join Everett at the podium were the Reverend T. H. Stockton, who would give the opening prayer; B. B. French, who composed a hymn for the occasion; and the Reverend H. L. Baugher, who was to deliver the benediction.

Shortly after noon on 18 November 1863, Lincoln boarded the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from Washington. In Baltimore, the President's coach was switched to the North Central line, which made a brief stop in Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania. Arriving in Gettysburg at dusk, Lincoln was met by the principal organizers and participants of the dedication ceremonies. Coffins for the reinterrment of soldiers still lined the station platform when the president disembarked from the train. That evening the leader of the Union dined with Everett, who spoke of the somber scenes he had witnessed two days earlier on a tour of the battlefield. Later that evening the Fifth New York Artillery band serenaded the president and shortly thereafter, the commander in chief retired to his room to put the finishing touches on his speech. Late the following morning, Everett, Lincoln, and other dignitaries gathered on the small raised platform near the partially completed burial grounds. Tens of thousands of onlookers gathered that morning, many of them family members of the dead who had traveled long distances, waiting to hear words of consolation that would somehow make sense of the personal tragedies that had befallen them. Spoken among the poignant realities of war, Lincoln's remarks would soon transform this scene of despair and purposelessness into a symbol of national purpose and sacred cause.

"The World Will Little Note, Nor Long Remember What We Say Here"

Completing his speech, Lincoln purportedly returned to his seat suggesting to his bodyguard, Ward Lamon, that the remarks, like a bad plow, "won't scour." This myth, along with many others that emerged in the years following the address, suggest that Lincoln gave only scant time to prepare for his speech and subsequently was disappointed by its results. Lincoln's words, however, were not the result of his simply jotting down notes on the back of an envelope during his train ride from Washington to Pennsylvania; instead, the Gettysburg Address was the product of a gifted writer who over time had carefully crafted his message to give it a power and resonance that extended beyond the local residents, mourners, and curious spectators who gathered on that fall afternoon. With the exception of his contemporary partisan detractors, Lincoln's efforts were enormously successful on this account.

Historians have suggested that the president accomplished this objective by employing three principal literary techniques. The first was a compression of style. Lincoln's economy of the written word modeled itself after some of the great political orations of antiquity. This style, harkening to the past, appealed to Americans who were schooled in the classics. A second and related technique employed by Lincoln was a suppression of particulars. Despite what we assume to be the subjects of the Gettysburg Address, the speech never refers to Gettysburg or the battle in particular and it avoids any mention of the institution of slavery, the South, the Union, or the Emancipation Proclamation. Instead, these issues are addressed indirectly by the speech with the theme of preservation of self-government at its center. Finally, Lincoln expressed ideas about the current crisis by using polarities. The juxtaposition of themesfor example, the acts of dedication among the living contrasted with those who have diednot only engaged the audience gathered at Gettysburg that day, but speak to the essential challenges facing succeeding generations of a nation "conceived in Liberty." In this sense the Gettysburg Address retains a timeless quality, a muse for all Americans to dedicate their lives.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

McPherson, James M. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Neely, Mark E., Jr. The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Nevins, Alan. The War for the Union: The Organized War, 1863 1864. New York: Scribner, 1971.

Peterson, Merrill D. Lincoln in American Memory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992. This work remains the most thorough treatment of Lincoln's address. It is an outstanding study of the literary devices Lincoln employed to draft his speech as well as the historical context in which it was delivered.

Kent A. McConnell

See also Gettysburg, Battle of ; Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address ; Oratory ; and vol. 9: Gettysburg Address .

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Gettysburg Address (19 November 1863)

GETTYSBURG ADDRESS (19 November 1863)


Often simply called "The Speech" among speechwriters, Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" is not only a marvel of concinnity and plainspoken grace, but also a model of a message that transcends the mundane and immediate to touch on points universal and grand. Delivered on 19 November 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers Cemetery on the grounds of the Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania), during which some seven thousand Americans killed one another, Lincoln's 272-word address was not even the keynote. The honor of delivering that fell to the noted public orator Edward Everett, whose impassioned, classical rhetoric rang across the recently cleared battlefield for almost two hours. Shortly after, Everett would tell Lincoln, "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes." Lincoln's speech came at an opportune moment, one many historians consider a turning point in the American Civil War, and it was instantly regarded as a profound work of American political and literary genius.

Laura M.Miller,
Vanderbilt University

See also Civil War ; Gettysburg Address .

FOURSCORE and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on 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 battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that the nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated 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—that 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, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

SOURCE: Lincoln, Abraham. Writings of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Lamb, 1905–06.

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Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg Address, speech delivered by Abraham Lincoln on Nov. 19, 1863, at the dedication of the national cemetery on the Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg, Pa. It is one of the most famous and most quoted of modern speeches. The final version of the address prepared by Lincoln, differing in detail from the spoken address, reads:



Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on 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 that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

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 consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated 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—that 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, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


See A. Nevins, ed., Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address (1964); W. E. Barton, Lincoln at Gettysburg (1930, repr. 1971); G. Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg (1992); G. Boritt, The Gettysburg Gospel (2006).

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Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863) Speech by US President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the national cemetery on the battlefield of Gettysburg. It ended by describing democracy as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”.

http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/gadd

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