Abraham Lincoln: Gettysburg Address

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Abraham Lincoln: Gettysburg Address

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered an address at the dedication of the national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that has become one of the most famous speeches of U.S. history. Lincoln's speech came less than six months after the conclusion of the Gettysburg campaign (June 27–July 4, 1863), one of the bloodiest battles of the U.S. Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his forces were defeated by Union forces led by General George Meade. The losses for both sides were immense with more than 7,000 killed and 44,000 wounded or missing.

The principal orator at the dedication was Edward Everett, a senator, preacher, and scholar who spoke for more than two hours in the florid style of the time. Lincoln, who presided at the dedication, followed with a few brief remarks in a speech he had written in Washington and then revised slightly before the ceremony. Lincoln honored those who had died at Gettysburg and proclaimed that the cause for which they had died had given the nation a "new birth of freedom."

Lucid, terse, and precise, Lincoln's speech stood in stark contrast to Everett's. Though the crowd that day applauded Lincoln's address without enthusiasm, generations of schoolchildren have memorized and recited it, while Everett's speech was quickly forgotten.

Abraham Lincoln: 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 that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Source: The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Constitutional ed., vol. 7 (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1906), p. 20.

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.

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Critique: While the Gettysburg Address is arguably one of the most important and succinct presidential addresses in the history of America, and one that has been studied hundreds of times over the last century, "Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: Echoes of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer" offers a unique and deftly insightful perspective that will have an enduring impact on how scholars and academicians perceive Abraham Lincoln's timely and timeless message to the people of his war torn day that continues to resonate down to our own time.
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