Thursday, November 19, 2009

These Dead Shall Not Have Died in Vain – Lincoln Delivers the Gettysburg Address

On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history. Lincoln was invited to attend the consecration of a cemetery for the Union war dead. For the occasion, he was asked to provide a “few appropriate remarks,” by David Wills, the man charged by the Pennsylvania governor to clean up the aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg.
Wills also asked Edward Everett, a famous orator, to offer remarks at the ceremony. Famously, Everett went on for over two hours before Lincoln spoke. After Everett finally retired, Lincoln rose and delivered what many considered at the time to be an all too brief speech. What is enduring about that ceremony are not the two hours worth of oratory provided by Everett, which have now been forgotten. Instead, generations of Americans have honored how much Lincoln was able to say about that moment in our nation’s history with so few words. First, he honored the dead who had given their lives in the civil war. Beyond that, he also hinted at what his vision of a post- war America might be like, calling for a “new birth of freedom.”
Lincoln served as his own speechwriter. My esteem for him as president only grows when I think that he not only handled the incredible difficulty of governing during the war with grace, but still managed to write words that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up one hundred and forty-six years later. I always think the power of great speeches is evident when we hear them read aloud, so I have attached a reading of the Gettysburg Address.

Check out an online exhibit on the Gettysburg Address at the
Library of Congress.

[Images via
Library of Congress]

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