GETTYSBURG ADDRESS Summary , Introduction, Analysis

GETTYSBURG ADDRESS Summary , Introduction, Analysis


GETTYSBURG ADDRESS Historical Speech – Abraham Lincoln


An Introduction to Abraham Lincoln:

Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, was born near Hodgenville, Kentucky on February 12, 1809. His family moved to Indiana when he was seven and he grew up on the edge of the frontier. He had very little formal education, but read voraciously when not working on his father’s farm. A childhood friend later recalled Lincoln’s “manic” intellect, and the sight of him red-eyed and tousle-haired as he pored over books late into the night. In 1828, at the age of nineteen, he accompanied a produce-laden flatboat down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, Louisiana – his first visit to a large city-and then walked back home. Two years later, trying to avoid health and finance troubles, Lincoln’s father moved the family moved to Illinois.


 After moving away from home, Lincoln co-owned a general store for several years before selling his stake and enlisting as a militia captain defending Illinois in the Black Hawk War of 1832. Black Hawk, a Sauk chief, believed he had been swindled by a recent land deal and sought to resettle his old holdings. Lincoln did not see direct combat during the short conflict, but the sight of corpse-strewn battlefields at Stillman’s Run and Kellogg’s Grove deeply affected him. As a captain, he developed a reputation for pragmatism and integrity. Once, faced with a rail fence during practice maneuvers and forgetting the parade-ground instructions to direct his men over it, he simply ordered them to fall out and reassemble on the other side a minute later. Another time, he stopped his men before they executed a wandering Native American as a spy. Stepping in front of their raised muskets, Lincoln is said to have challenged his men to combat for the terrified native’s life. His men stood down.


After the war, he studied law and campaigned for a seat on the Illinois State Legislature. Although not elected in his first attempt, Lincoln persevered and won the position in 1834, serving as a Whig.


Abraham Lincoln met Mary Todd in Springfield, Illinois where he was practicing as a lawyer. They were married in 1842 over her family’s objections and had four sons. Only one lived to adulthood. The deep melancholy that pervaded the Lincoln family, with occasional detours into outright madness, is in some ways sourced in their close relationship with death.


Lincoln, a self-described “prairie lawyer,” focused on his all-embracing law practice in the early 1850s after one term in Congress from 1847 to 1849. He joined the new Republican party – and the ongoing argument over sectionalism-in 1856. A series of heated debates in 1858 with Stephen A. Douglas, the sponsor of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, over slavery and its place in the United States forged Lincoln into a prominent figure in national politics. Lincoln’s anti-slavery platform made him extremely unpopular with South erners and his nomination for President in 1860 enraged them.


On November 6, 1860, Lincoln won the presidential election without the support of a single Southern state. Talk of secession, bandied about since the 1830s, took on a serious new tone. The Civil War was not entirely caused by Lincoln’s election, but the election was one of the primary reasons the war broke out the following year.


Lincoln’s decision to fight rather than to let the Southern states secede was not based on his feelings towards slavery. Rather, he felt it was his sacred duty as President of the United States to preserve the Union at all costs. His first inaugural address was an appeal to the rebellious states, seven of which had already seceded, to rejoin the nation. His first draft of the speech ended with an ominous message: “Shall it be peace, or the sword?”


The Civil War with the opening bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861. Lincoln forced the Confederate hand with his decision to resupply the fort, which had suddenly become an outpost in a hostile nation. The Southern navy turned away the supply convoy and then fired the first shot of the war at Fort Sumter, forcing the Federal defenders to surrender after a 34-hour battle.


Throughout the war Lincoln struggled to find capable generals for his armies. As commander-in-chief, he legally held the highest rank in the United States armed forces, and he diligently exercised his authority through strategic planning, weapons testing, and the promotion and demotion of officers. McDowell, Fremont, McClellan, Pope, McClellan again, Buell, Burnside, Rosecrans–all of these men and more withered under Lincoln’s watchful eye as they failed to bring him success on the battlefield.


He did not issue his famous Emancipation Proclamation until January 1, 1863 after the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam. The Emancipation Proclamation, which was legally based on the President’s right to seize the property of those in rebellion against the State, only freed slaves in Southern states where Lincoln’s forces had no control. Nevertheless, it changed the tenor of the war, making it, from the Northern point of view, a fight both to preserve the Union and to end slavery.


In 1864, Lincoln ran again for President. After years of war, he feared he would not win. Only in the final months of the campaign did the exertions of Ulysses S. Grant, the quiet general now in command of all of the Union armies, begin to bear fruit. A string of heartening victories buoyed Lincoln’s ticket and contributed significantly to his re-election. In his second inauguration speech, March 4, 1865, he set the tone he intended to take when the war finally ended. His one goal, he said, was “lasting peace among ourselves.” He called for “malice towards none” and “charity for all.” The war ended only a month later.


The Lincoln administration did more than just manage the Civil War, although its reverberations could still be felt in a number of policies. The Revenue Act of 1862 established the United States’ first income tax, largely to pay the costs of total war. The Morrill Act of 1862 established the basis of the state university system in this country, while the Homestead Act, also passed in 1862, encouraged settlement of the West by offering 160 acres of free land to settlers. Lincoln also created the Department of Agriculture and formally instituted the Thanksgiving holiday. Internationally, he navigated the “Trent Affair,” a diplomatic crisis regarding the seizure of a British ship carrying Confederate envoys, in such a way as to quell the saber-rattling overtures coming from Britain as well as the United States. In another spill-over from the war, Lincoln restricted the civil liberties of due process and freedom of the press. On April 14, 1865, while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington,D.C., Abraham Lincoln was shot by Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth. The assassination was part of a larger plot to eliminate the Northern government that also left Secretary of State William Seward grievously injured. Lincoln died the following day, and with him the hope of reconstructing the nation without bitterness.


The Historical Background of the Gettysburg Address:


During a three-day Civil War battle at Gettysburg in early July 1863, there were over 23,000 Union casualties (including more than 3,000 deaths) and 28,000 Confederate casualties (including at least 4,000 deaths). A portion of the battlefield was dedicated as a National Soldiers’ Cemetery for the thousands of soldiers who had died.


Abraham Lincoln wrote and spoke the famous words known as the Gettysburg Address (below) at the ceremony on November 19, 1863. He was not the main speaker for the dedication. Edward Everett, a well-known orator, was the chief speaker and spoke for two hours. Lincoln’s speech consisted of 272 words, lasted 2 minutes, and became known as one of the greatest speeches ever made by an American president. Many young people • were in the huge crowd that day. Henry Jacobs, who was standing in front of the speaker’s stand wrote the following about President Lincoln:


“At first his voice sounded a little strained and high-pitched, as if he were trying to throw his voice to the outer edge of the crowd. He held in his right hand the manuscript he had brought from the White House. . He emphasized the words ‘of, ‘by,’ and ‘for’ (the people) with a stiff yet sweeping bend of his body, holding the manuscript rigidly in both hands. : . Then he drew himself up to his immense height, with his arms outstretched, as he impressively uttered the final words, ‘shall not-perishfrom-theearth.”


“Gettysburg Address” is a speech on the occasion of the Dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania November 19, 1863





*A Summary of the Gettysburg :


(1st Paragragh) Lincoln begins by saying that the United States was founded “four score and seven,” or 87, years ago. The nation’s founders dedicated the new country to the principles of liberty and equality.


(2nd Paragragh) The United States is now fighting a civil war, Lincoln states. This civil war will test if the United States survives as a nation, and whether nations dedicated to liberty and equality can survive at all. He says a great battle was fought at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Everyone assembled is here to dedicate part of this battlefield as a cemetery for the soldiers killed here, This, Lincoln says, is the right thing to do.


(3rd Paragragh) However, Lincoln continues, the people assembled can’t really consecrate this battlefield because the soldiers who fought here have already done so. Their bravery did more to make this field sacred than anything an official could do. Few people will remember today’s speeches and ceremonies, but they will remember the soldiers’ brave sacrifices. The people who survive must dedicate themselves to completing the work the soldiers began. These brave dead men inspire the living to greater dedication to the cause of liberty because in giving their lives they gave their complete dedication. We must all commit ourselves, Lincoln urges, to carrying on their mission so their deaths have meaning and purpose. We must commit to creating a new era of freedom for America so it, and its democratic principles and government, will survive.


A Critical Analysis of Gettysburg Address:


In 1863 when the Battle of Gettysburg was fought, it was not clear how the Civil War would end. While that battle ultimately proved to be a key pivot point, the war would stretch on until the spring of 1865, almost two years after the Gettysburg battle. It was not yet clear what the meaning of the Battle of Gettysburg would be.


Nevertheless, both of the day’s speakers felt compelled to try to position the battle in history to help give it meaning and help the nation understand it. Edward Everett, the day’s main speaker, treated the Union dead like classical heroes. He made extended and explicit references to classical Greece. He used his extensive learning to demonstrate how their deaths tied to great moments in the English and American struggles for liberty throughout history.


Lincoln also linked the battle and war to history, but more simply. Rather than evoke specific mighty heroes of the American Revolution such as Patrick Henry and George Washington, as Everett had done, Lincoln linked the Civil War to one main moment in American history: the founding of the country, which he dates as starting with the Declaration of Independence. Likewise, he links the fallen dead not to specific heroes but to one generation of men, the Founding Fathers of the United States.


Everett ended his speech by turning his sights to the past. He made the battle glorious and indicated its mighty stature by linking it to Pericles and the Peloponnesian War. Lincoln, by contrast, completes his act of historical positioning by linking the Battle of Gettysburg and the larger Civil War to the present and the future. Rather than this eulogy only being about celebrating the dead’s role in history and the past, Lincoln indicates their main purpose is to inspire the living. Their deaths give the future a direction and a sense of meaning, as if the Battle of Gettysburg were a midpoint, not just for the war, but for the whole of American history. This is why Lincoln can call for “a new birth of freedom” for the nation. Lincoln is essentially restarting American history with the Civil War. Rhetorical Positioning: Lincoln didn’t just position the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War historically; he also positioned them rhetorically. The United States has two famous founding documents: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. They both contain famous lines about American values, but they are very different. The Declaration is a passionate cry for freedom. It makes sweeping claims about shared humanity and universal rights. The most famous of these is that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Lincoln evokes the Declaration explicitly in his opening paragraph: “Four score and seven years ago” is 87 years before the Battle of Gettysburg, or 1776, the year of the Declaration. He then echoes the wording by saying the United States was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”


The Declaration of Independence is wonderful, passionate rhetoric. However, it has no legal standing. The nation’s founding legal document is the Constitution, which takes a much more abstract, measured, legalistic position on liberty. The Preamble does say the nation is established to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” However, this claim is decidedly not universal. Later the Constitution mentions slaves as being “other persons.” As many scholars have noted, the Constitution is a document of compromise; the men who wrote it made careful deals among themselves and the regions they represented to construct a legal framework for the new nation. The Constitution was a great triumph, but it is much more careful than the Declaration. By starting with an explicit evocation of the Declaration, Lincoln is linking his speech and his political vision to the bold absolutes of the Declarationliberty for all.


Lincoln also borrows some of the more inspiring rhetorical authority of the Constitution in his conclusion. The Preamble to the Constitution famously begins with the phrase “We the people,” and it articulates a theory of government in which governmental authority flows from the people to the government. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution (the final entry in the Bill of Rights) reserves all rights not specifically given to the federal government or to the states for “the people.” In his concluding paragraph, Lincoln refers to “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” There had long been rhetorical distance between these two great founding documents. In this address, Lincoln builds a bridge between them: he starts with liberty and ends with the people.


Redefining America :

Lincoln included so much in such a short space that it is worth noting what he left out of the speech and how it helped redefine America. Gettysburg was the site of the bloodiest fighting in the Civil War. Lincoln mentions the war and the fallen dead, but not the causes for the war. He does not cast blame on the Union or Confederacy; he gestures past them, to include the entire nation. Though the Civil War was largely fought over slavery, Lincoln does not mention this divisive subject. That topic could still start arguments. Instead, he addresses slavery by implication through focusing on the American value of liberty – the opposite of slavery. He does not mention any of his political opponents. He does not even mention specific American heroes. Instead he groups them all into the category of “fathers” and makes everyone present part of the American family through implication. Finally, though he refers to specific famous documents (the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bible), he does not identify them by name because he trusts his audience to recognize these shared foundational documents.


 Historical Importance of the Gettysburg Address :


It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Gettysburg Address in American history. One of the first ways to measure this importance is to consider how many myths and stories circulate about it. People say Lincoln composed the speech on the train on the way to the event or scribbled it on an envelope. He didn’t: Lincoln started working on the speech in July of that year, and drafts exist from before the event. A more credible criticism is one arguing Lincoln left the phrase “under God” out of his speech. There is a draft of his speech that does not contain those words, but later drafts and eyewitness testimony indicate Lincoln did include the phrase in the version he delivered. It is essentially a myth to call this speech “the Gettysburg Address,” since he wasn’t the only speaker there: the main speaker was the famous Edward Everett. Other stories circulate about the audience’s reception of the speech. Some claim the brevity of the speech caught the audience off guard. This seems to be an invention after the fact. A final myth is that everyone loved the speech. The audience did applaud, and Edward Everett praised the speech, but other sources found it flat and unin spired. One criticism even said it insulted the fallen Union soldiers by distorting the meaning of the Constitution.


This last criticism had some validity and was central to some of the speech’s profound historical importance. Lincoln’s speech was important in part because it did change the meaning of the Constitution. To be more specific, it presented a vision of America in which liberty and equality were both central principles for the nation. This vision has been so completely adopted that it may be hard to recognize now that before the Civil War, equality was not a major principle of the United States. Jefferson had evoked liberty as part of his grand rhetorical appeal in the Declaration of Independence, but it had not been built into the Constitution or a central part of American politics. In fact, inequality was written into the Constitution. Only male property owners could vote when the Constitution was ratified, and the Constitution protected slavery.


Lincoln recovered the meaning of liberty and equality for the United States. He transformed liberty from a distant ideal to something pressing and current that each person should act on. He also changed liberty’s place in the national identity, and in doing so he changed American national identity. The seceding Southern states thought of themselves as acting to preserve their liberty and thought of the American Civil War as a second American Revolution. In their view, the South left the United States to preserve its liberty from a threatening central government. Lincoln reversed that idea here, fusing liberty with the ideal of American nationalism while also weaving in equality. Lincoln fused liberty and equality for all, and he insisted everyone play an active part in bringing these values into being. In doing so he elevated the Declaration over the Constitution, holding the ideal above the written law.


Two factors contributed to Lincoln’s success in doing this. The first is positive: his speech is a rhetorical masterpiece. It is skilled, perfectly positioned, elegant, and beautiful. Time magazine ranked it fourth in a list of the greatest political speeches of all time. The second factor is negative: Lincoln was assassinated shortly after his reelection. This helped elevate Lincoln to a mythic status, as people began to forget how very unpopular Lincoln had been with much of the American population when he was president. It transformed him into a visionary of American liberty, when the reality was much more complex. many ways. Gettysburg celebrates the The Gettysburg Address lives on in Gettysburg Address, as well as the people who died in the war, every November 19th, which is called Remembrance Day. A parade honors the Gettysburg Address, and living history groups march in uniform. Candles are lit on the soldiers’ graves and speeches are given in honor of the dead and the day.


On Memorial Day in 1963, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at Gettysburg. On the 100th anniversary of the speech, organizers invited President John F. Kennedy to speak at the ceremony. He could not attend because he had other obligations, but former president Dwight D. Eisenhower did attend and give a speech honoring Lincoln and calling on Americans to finish the task Lincoln called them to. Fifty years later, President Barack Obama was invited to speak at the 150th anniversary, but he too had to decline because of other obligations.


When he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, near the start of his speech, Martin Luther King included the words “five score years ago,” echoing Lincoln’s words, even as he issued his own call for a new birth of American liberty. 


Many high-profile Americans have recorded readings of the speech: Sam Waterston, Colin Powell, Jeff Daniels, and Johnny Cash, among others. Denzel Washington’s character Coach Herman Boone referred to the Battle of Gettysburg and borrowed phrases from the speech in the movie Remember the Titans. Members of the audience who were present for the speech have had their memories recorded, and those accounts are part of the consecration of the speech, part of what transforms it into a sacred American text.


The Gettysburg Address is a short speech written and delivered by Abraham Lincoln at the consecration of the Gettysburg National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863. The speech took place four months after the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, in which the Union army won a victory over Confederate forces. After Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg offered to set aside a section for Union soldiers who were killed in the battle, local attorney David Wills proposed a plan to create a national cemetery funded by the states instead. 


The Gettysburg National Cemetery, originally named the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, was built and the slain Union soldiers removed from their makeshift graves in the Gettysburg Battlefield and reburied at the cemetery. About 15,000 people, including six state governors, attended the consecration ceremony in November. President Lincoln was asked to deliver a short speech dedicating the cemetery after the main oration by the Honorary Edward Everett, a former Secretary of State and Massachusetts senator. Lincoln’s address, which is two hundred seventy-two words and about two minutes long, memorialized the soldiers who gave their lives for the Union, expressing the President’s hope that they had not died in vain and that the Union could be salvaged. Considered one of Lincoln’s most memorable and important speeches, the address exists today in five slightly different versions.


Lincoln begins the address with the sentence, “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.” Lincoln continues, saying that the outcome of the ongoing Civil War will determine whether a nation founded on the concepts of freedom and equality for all citizens can really endure and withstand the test of time. He notes the reason for the attendees’ presence that day is to dedicate a portion of the battlefield on which that war was fought, the site of the Gettysburg battle, to those who gave their lives to ensure that the nation would survive. He says that the dedication to those who have died for the nation’s continued existence is “altogether fitting and proper.”


In the next paragraph of the address, Lincoln claims that nothing the attendees do or say that day would consecrate or hallow the ground of the battlefield more than the brave soldiers, both living and dead, who fought in the battle have already done. He explains that few will remember the words spoken at the ceremony that day, but many will remember the heroic battle that the Union soldiers fought. Lincoln goes on to deliver the last and most important lines of the speech, saying that the best thing that the living citizens of the country can do to honor the fallen soldiers is to dedicate themselves to finishing the “great task” that the soldiers died to advance, so that they would not have given their lives in vain.


Lincoln clarifies that this “great task” is the reunification and salvation of the presently war-torn nation, ensuring that the great democratic experiment begun by the founding fathers nearly a century ago does not end in failure and that the American nation founded on “government of the people, by the people, for the people” does not “perish from the Earth.” In addition to expressing his hopes for the nation’s continued existence as the founding fathers had originally envisioned it, he also expresses the wish for a “new birth of freedom” in the reunified nation. a


These words have long been interpreted by historians as an allusion to the moral issue of slavery that ignited the war and Southern secession in the first place, and the idea that this institution must be destroyed in order for all of the nation’s people to be truly free and equal. These words are arguably the most important part of the address because they convey the idea that the main objective of the war is not only to preserve the nation as a whole but to move in the direction of greater equality for all its citizens by abolishing slavery. This part of the speech acknowledges that the original nation was flawed and expresses the hope that the new one emerging from the Union victory in the war will be a stronger, improved version that better lives up to the nation’s core founding principles.


The Gettysburg Address is remembered today for its historical importance, brevity, and eloquence. Although Lincoln’s speech had not been the main feature of the ceremony, many who heard it marveled at the President’s ability to summarize the importance of the Battle of Gettysburg and the larger Civil War in just ten short sentences. The rumor that Lincoln had quickly dashed off the speech on the train ride to the ceremony has since been debunked since he was known to have carefully prepared all of his speeches in advance. Although the Soldiers’ National Monument is often thought to be the location of the address, it was actually delivered on a grassy knoll in the neighboring Evergreen Cemetery.






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