English Literature
Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg Address

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The Impact of Abraham Lincoln's Unforgettable "Gettysburg Address"

On November 19, 1863, during a tumultuous time in American history, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech that would become one of the most influential and well-known in American history. As the 16th President of the United States, Lincoln faced the challenge of leading a divided nation through the Civil War, the costliest war in American lives. Despite this difficult task, Lincoln was renowned for his public speaking abilities and had already given many speeches that are still studied by students and teachers today. However, his "Gettysburg Address" stands out as one of the most memorable and iconic speeches of his career.

The Civil War began during Lincoln's presidency, as many southern states seceded and formed the Confederacy. As the leader of the nation, Lincoln's top priority was to preserve the Union. The Battle of Gettysburg, a major turning point in the war, was won by Union General George Meade, who was appointed by Lincoln himself. This victory over Confederate General Robert E. Lee's troops shifted the tide in favor of the Union.

The Historical Context and Facts of the "Gettysburg Address"

The "Gettysburg Address" was written and delivered by Lincoln on November 19, 1863, just a few months after the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle, which occurred from July 1-3, 1863, resulted in the establishment of the first National Soldier's cemetery. It was during the dedication ceremony for this cemetery that Lincoln gave his famous speech.

Although the main speaker at the ceremony was Edward Everett, who gave a two-hour speech, it was Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" that left a lasting impact. There are five known versions of the speech, with the "Bliss Copy" being the most commonly cited at 271 words long.

The Man behind the "Gettysburg Address": Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln's education during his childhood played a significant role in shaping his exceptional speaking abilities. Despite receiving little formal education, he taught himself to be a lawyer and became a respected local statesman. He continuously worked on improving his public speaking skills through his involvement in local and state politics, seeking feedback from close friends and later trusted members of his cabinet during his presidency.

Before delivering the "Gettysburg Address" on November 19, 1863, Lincoln sat for a famous photograph taken by Alexander Gardner just over a week prior. Born in a log cabin on February 12, 1809, Lincoln taught himself to read and write while helping with chores on the family farm. He had a love for reading from a young age, with some of his earliest books including the Bible (1 AD), Robinson Crusoe (1719), and memoirs by Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). While he occasionally had the opportunity to attend classes with traveling teachers, most of his education was self-directed.

As a young adult, Lincoln saw the harsh realities of slavery while working as a flatboat operator down the Mississippi River. This experience, though limited, greatly influenced his views on restricting the expansion of slavery. He became known as an anti-slavery figure after speaking out against the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.

The Civil War began soon after Lincoln's election as President, and while he firmly believed in preserving the Union, he struggled with the weight of the immense responsibility and loss of life caused by the war. The implementation of the draft led to protests and a full-scale insurrection in New York City in 1863. As the leader of a divided and weary public, Lincoln knew he needed to reinvigorate support for the war.

The Battle of Gettysburg was a crucial moment in the war, with Union troops successfully halting the Confederate invasion of the Northern states. This victory boosted morale and shifted the momentum in favor of the Union, ultimately leading to their triumph in the Civil War. Although Lincoln's life was tragically cut short, his powerful "Gettysburg Address" remains a lasting reminder of his leadership during one of the most turbulent times in American history.

The Significance of Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address"

Amid the turmoil of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a monumental speech known as the "Gettysburg Address".

The Legacy of Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address"

In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a powerful and timeless speech at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. His aim was to honor the soldiers who had sacrificed their lives in the Battle of Gettysburg and to inspire the living to carry on their legacy. Initially, Lincoln's speech received little attention from the press, but as it was printed in newspapers and magazines, it gained popularity and was praised by public intellectuals. Today, it is regarded as one of the founding documents of the United States, alongside the "Declaration of Independence" and the "Bill of Rights".

The Turning Point of the Civil War

The Battle of Gettysburg marked a turning point in the Civil War, with a combined casualty estimate of 46,000 to 51,000 Americans. The process of burying the soldiers was overwhelming, and there was a growing demand for a national cemetery. The dedication ceremony of the Gettysburg National Cemetery went as planned, with Edward Everett giving a lengthy two-hour speech. Despite being ill, Lincoln delivered his address after Everett's speech.

In his speech, Lincoln referred to the "Declaration of Independence" and its principles of personal freedom and equality. He recognized the sacrifices made by the soldiers and emphasized that it was their bravery that sanctified the land. He also urged the living to continue fighting for these ideals and to demonstrate that the American experiment could succeed.

Despite his haggard appearance and a short speech of only two minutes, Lincoln's words left a lasting impact. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with smallpox and bedridden for several weeks.

The Full Text of the "Gettysburg Address"

The "Gettysburg Address" is a concise speech, only 271 words in total. In just ten sentences, Lincoln eloquently expresses the significance of the Civil War and pays tribute to the soldiers who fought for the Union.

Historians debate the original text, with at least five versions in existence. The most widely accepted version is the Bliss copy, named after Colonel Alexander Bliss who requested Lincoln to title, sign, and date the speech. This is also the version inscribed on the side of the Lincoln Memorial.

Below is the full text of the "Gettysburg Address", as delivered by President Abraham Lincoln.

  • "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 here 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."

The Lasting Impact of the "Gettysburg Address"

Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" remains a symbol of unity, equality, and perseverance in the face of adversity. It is a testament to the power of words and the enduring legacy of those who fought for the United States. Its brevity and simplicity have made it one of the most memorable speeches in American history, and it continues to inspire future generations. As we honor the soldiers who gave their lives in the Battle of Gettysburg, we must also remember Lincoln's powerful words and strive to uphold the ideals for which they fought and died.

The Power of Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address"

Abraham Lincoln, known for his literary prowess, was admired for his ability to convey his words simply and directly. His passionate and sincere delivery earned him praise from renowned novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe. Critics noted that his speeches were more than just words on paper, but had the ability to stir emotions in his listeners.

In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln delivered his famous "Gettysburg Address," referencing the Declaration of Independence at the beginning. As the war progressed, the significance of the conflict evolved. Initially, Lincoln's focus was on preserving the Union and limiting the spread of slavery. However, with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he shifted the focus to the idea of equality. This proclamation granted freedom to all slaves and encouraged them to join the Union cause.

By concluding his speech with references to equality, Lincoln effectively reframed the Civil War as a fight for both preserving the Union and achieving equality for all. This emphasized the Union's stance on freedom and equality and portrayed the Confederate rebels as opposing these ideals. By uniting the concepts of union and equality, Lincoln renewed the motivation to continue the fight for the Union.

The Lasting Impact of the "Gettysburg Address"

The "Gettysburg Address" holds its power because it eloquently connects to the ideals enshrined in America's founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. It also pays tribute to the sacrifice of the fallen soldiers who fought for these ideals. This speech successfully shifts the focus of the Civil War from solely preserving the Union to also fighting for equality for the newly freed slaves.

Key Takeaways from the "Gettysburg Address"

  • Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" is a highly acclaimed speech in American history.
  • Lincoln was largely self-educated and independently composed the speech.
  • The "Gettysburg Address" draws upon the founding principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.
  • It reframes the Civil War beyond preserving the Union, highlighting the importance of equality for the recently freed slaves.

Sources used for this article are: G.S. Boritt's "The Gettysburg Gospel" and Stephen B. Oates' "Abraham Lincoln: Unveiling the Truth Behind the Legend".

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous "Gettysburg Address" during the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This speech, given just four months after the decisive Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, has become one of the most well-known and influential speeches in American history.

Three Things You Didn't Know About the "Gettysburg Address"

  • Lincoln's speech was not the main event of the ceremony. The primary speaker was Edward Everett, a well-known orator who delivered a two-hour long address before Lincoln's brief two-minute speech.
  • There are five different versions of the "Gettysburg Address," with the most commonly cited being the "Bliss Copy." This version, named after Colonel Alexander Bliss who commissioned it, contains 271 words and is believed to be the most accurate and reliable rendition of Lincoln's original words.
  • Despite its short length, the "Gettysburg Address" has stood the test of time as one of the most powerful and influential speeches in American history.

The Impact and Legacy of the "Gettysburg Address"

What makes the "Gettysburg Address" so enduring and impactful? It is Lincoln's masterful use of language to honor the sacrifices of those who fought and died in the Civil War, while also reshaping the meaning of the conflict.

In just a few sentences, Lincoln references the ideals of equality and freedom enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, recognizing the soldiers' dedication to these principles. He also boldly declares that the Civil War is a fight for the preservation of these values and for the freedom of the newly emancipated slaves.

The legacy of the "Gettysburg Address" is a tribute to President Lincoln's leadership and unwavering commitment to the principles of the United States. It continues to serve as a reminder of the country's unity, perseverance, and determination to overcome adversity. Truly, the "Gettysburg Address" will always be a testament to the endurance of American ideals and the power of a well-crafted speech.

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