The Gettysburg Address is one of the most celebrated speeches ever written. The author of this document was the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln wrote this speech for two reasons. First, the speech was written to consecrate the cemetery at Gettysburg. Second, and most important, Lincoln’s words were meant to start the rebuilding of his war-torn country.
The Battle of Gettysburg began at 5:30 am on July 1, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (McLaughlin 48). General Meade of the Union and General Lee of the Confederacy set up their men, each one trying to anticipate what the other would do. As the battle continued, it seemed to Lee that his men were dropping faster than Meade’s. He Decided to retreat.
When sundown came on July 3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg ended (McLaughlin 159). 23,040 Union soldiers and close to 25,000 Confederate soldiers were dead. The confederates loaded up their dead and took them back to the South while the Union buried their fallen right there.
Four months after the battle, the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery was scheduled to begin. President Lincoln received an invitation on November 2, 1863, from Attorney David Wills, agent to the Governor of Pennsylvania. Wills asked Lincoln ” to be present, and participate in the Ceremonies, which will doubtless be very imposing and solemnly impressive” (Freedman 44).
No one expected Lincoln to be able t speak on such an occasion. In fact, the board of Commissioners waited six weeks after inviting Edward Evert, one of the most famous orators of the day and primary speaker at Gettysburg (World Book 434). The reason they did not think that the President would be able to speak at such an occasion is because of the fact that he often preferred including humour in his speeches, something they considered inappropriate for the dedication of a cemetery (McLaughlin 189). Because of the tardiness of the invitation and his son’s illness, Lincoln finished his speech on the train from Washington to Gettysburg (McLaughlin 192).
As the sun came up on November 19, 1863, the Civil War had been raging on for two years and seven months. Approximately 233,946 Union soldiers had died and somewhere around 246 people would die that day, and probably many more. Lincoln, though this speech to be very important, for the press would be there which meant he had a chance to explain the purpose of the war and what the sacrifice of the many soldiers who had been wounded or killed meant to a great number of people (McLaughlin 195).
After Edward Everett had delivered his two-hour oration and a choir sang a song, it was Lincoln’s turn to speak. He got up, adjusted his glasses, and began. His 266 words and two minutes of history to come would forever be remembered by the American people (McLaughlin 195-196).
Lincoln began his speech by stressing that America was conceived in liberty. He didn’t say “Hello” or “My fellow American”, he simply stated, “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” (Speeches and Writings 536). From there, Lincoln goes on to stress that the Civil War is a major event. He uses the word “great” to describe the war and the battlefield. Some of the synonyms of the word “great” are big, huge, immense, vast and enormous. Lincoln, here, wanted to make sure that the citizens of their nation did not take this war lightly (Freedman 75).
The dedication of the cemetery really only takes up about one sentence of Lincoln’s address. The rest of the speech is used to stress the fact that Lincoln wants to rebuild his country and to make known the great sacrifice of the many people in the War. Most importantly, he wants the Civil War to end. This is even evident in Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech, delivered June 16, 1858, three years before the Civil War.
In this speech he states that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Speeches and Writings 426). President Lincoln then goes on to state that they, as people, cannot really dedicate the land. That had already been done by the soldiers who fought and died there. From there, Lincoln makes a sort of plea to the citizens of his nation to be “dedicated…to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced” (Speeches and Writings 536).
As the President is continuing his plea, he uses the word ” great” again. This time he uses it to describe the tack of ending the Civil War. He is aware that it will take a lot of effort to end this awful war. In concluding his speech, President Lincoln sums it all up by saying “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” (Speeches and Writings 537). Lincoln is afraid that he is going to lose his, and the people’s country. It is important to him that this war end and the country be united again.
Abraham Lincoln’s education said nothing for the quality of the Gettysburg Address. His parents could not read or write so his only early education was bible stories which his mother had memorized (Freedman 9). Lincoln had very little schooling throughout his life. He was once quoted as saying that his schooling did not amount to a year of formal schooling (freedman 12). Most of his correspondence and orations consisted of such learned language. This is mostly due to the great deal of books and newspapers which Lincoln read and the teachings of Master Graham.
Lincoln was a great public speaker. The first time Lincoln ever spoke publicly was in front of the new Salem debating society. One of the men was quoted as saying that “he was already a fine speaker” (Freedman 19). Lincoln spoke with a backwards twang and had a long-striding, flat, footed, cautious manner. He was very talented as a mimic and a storyteller but not necessarily as an orator such as Edward Everett (Abraham Lincoln) Despite of the fact that he wasn’t a great orator, Lincoln often attracted crowds of more than 15,000 people (Garrison 54).
Most of his listeners heard on average, two-hour speeches. They said that something remarkable happened when he began to talk. Horace White was quoted to say that his “eyes began to sparkle, the mouth to smile, the whole countenance so wreathed in animation that a stranger would have said: Why, this man, so angular and sombre a moment ago, is really handsome’” (Garrison 54-55).
The Gettysburg Address was scoffed at when Lincoln was done talking. Most of the people did not realize the effect the speech would have because they missed it. They were expecting a great big, long two-hour deal, similar to Everett’s oration and got two minutes. This surprised them so they considered it a failure. A correspondent for the London Times wrote, “The ceremony was rendered ludicrous by some of the sallies of that poor President Lincoln…Anything more dull and commonplace it wouldn’t be easy to produce” (McLaughlin 195).
The correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, however, must have been paying attention. He wrote, “The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annuls of man…” (McLaughlin 195). Everett did not feel that Lincoln’s remarks were a total failure as he said in a letter which he wrote the President.
The Gettysburg Address, written by President Abraham Lincoln, will forever by remembered by citizens of our nation Lincoln succeeded in both of his objectives. The cemetery was dedicated and his war torn country was brought back together on April 9, 1865 (Freedman 99). But with this speech came many more decisions from Lincoln to help his country. It isn’t often that a nation finds a man as great as Abraham Lincoln. One can only wonder how many countries the United States would be divided into today if it was not for the President, Abraham Lincoln.
Antietam Battlefield. HTTP://home.earthlink.net/ tshrader/
Freedman, Russell. Lincoln: A Photo Biography. New York: Clarion Books, 1987.
Garrison, Webb. The Lincoln No One Knows. Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1993.
Lincoln, Abraham. The Gettysburg Address. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings 1859-1865. New York: Library of America, 1989.
McLaughlin, Jack. Gettysburg: The Long Encampment. New York: Bonanza Books, 1963.
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