Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Gettysburg Address

Illustration of Lincoln during the Gettysburg address

The Gettysburg address is considered one of Abraham Lincoln's greatest speeches. The speech was given at a dedication ceremony for a cemetery of Union soldiers, known as the Soldier's National Cemetery, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

More than 50,000 soldiers died at the battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863. Many states in the Union wanted to bring their dead soldiers home to be buried in churchyards and family plots in their hometowns. The governor of Pennsylvania at the time, Andrew Gregg Curtin, forbid it due to fears that it would spread disease.

As a result, a collection was taken up to raise money for a cemetery for the Union soldiers. Governor Curtin invited a famous orator of the time, Edward Everett, to give the opening speech at the dedication ceremony, on November 19, and also invited Abraham Lincoln to give a few “remarks” at the ceremony as well.

Abe Lincoln (seated center w/o his hat) at the ceremony 
At the ceremony, Everett spoke first and went on for nearly two hours before Lincoln was given a chance to speak. Lincoln's speech lasted only three minutes and consisted of only 272 words but the audience broke into applause five times as he spoke. During his speech, Lincoln praised the men who had died on the battlefield and declared that they died preserving every American's right to freedom and equality. The speech echoed the ideals the country had fought for during the Revolution and reminded people why saving the union was important.

Lincoln did not think the speech was a success at first. It wasn't until the next day when Edward Everett sent Lincoln a note praising his speech and the press wrote several glowing accounts of the speech, such as the Chicago Tribune's comment:“The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of the war,” that Lincoln was reassured it was well received.

Unlike modern day presidents, Abraham Lincoln wrote his speeches himself and is the sole author of the Gettysburg address. Lincoln occasionally took writing advice from his colleagues but relied mostly on his own writing skills. Despite the fact that Lincoln's own parents were illiterate and he himself lacked a formal education, it is remarkable that he became such a gifted writer. Lincoln is often praised by modern day presidential speech writers, such as Kennedy speech writer Ted Sorensen, for his skill and eloquence.

Crowd at the dedication ceremony
Lincoln wrote out two copies of the speech by hand and gave them to his private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. Lincoln later wrote three more copies and gave them to Edward Everett, George Bancroft and Bancroft's stepson Colonel Alexander Bliss. These copies are now in the hands of the Library of Congress, the White House, The Illinois State Historical Library and Cornell University.
Copy of Gettysburg Address in Lincoln's hand
Copy of Lincoln's invitation to the dedication ceremony
The Gettysburg Address”; Abraham Lincoln; Michael McCurdy

The Library of Congress: Gettysburg Address

The Library of Congress: The Gettysburg Address

New York Times: Gettysburg Address

Smithsonian Magazine; Ted Sorensen on Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Words; Theodore C Sorensen; October 2008

National Park Service: Reactions to the Gettysburg Address

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