Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg(t)Today is the 146th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln delivering a “few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  When Lincoln received an invitation, from David Wills, to attend the dedication, he believed it was an opportunity for him to connect with the American people, providing them with an explanation for the long, bloody war and his evolving position on the dreadful conflict.  Most importantly it was his desire to honor all of the casualties of the fratricidal war.(i)

Lincoln received Wills’ invitation on November 2, 1863, leaving him less than three weeks to prepare his speech.  There is some evidence to suggest that he was aware of the upcoming invitation a full month earlier.  However, at the time, there was speculation that Wills, and Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin, had ulterior motives for inviting the president so late.  This probably was not the case, as Wills also included a personal note, with the invitation, inviting Lincoln to stay at his home.

President Lincoln left for Gettysburg on November 18.  Popular myth has it that Lincoln wrote his famous address on the back on envelope, while on the train.  This has been dispelled over the years as several early drafts of the speech were found on White House stationery.  Arriving with his Secretary of State, William H. Seward and Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, they were greeted at the Gettysburg train station with ringing bells and well wishers, as dusk settled over the quaint town.  The president’s group was escorted to the home of David Wills.  While putting the finishing touches on his speech, Lincoln was encouraged by a throng of people to come out and make a short speech.  He did not.  Instead Seward came forward and spoke for several minutes about the solemn occasion.

The president was not the keynote speaker for the dedication of the National Cemetery.  This honor was given to Edward Everett.  Everett had been Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative and Governor of Massachusetts.  Well known for his oratory skills, there was much anticipation ahead of his speech – a speech that would stretch to two hours.  Lincoln’s short address would officially set aside the ground as a National Cemetery.

At 9:30 a.m., on November 19, the dignitaries left Wills’ home.  Proceeding south to the cemetery, their group would also include six governors from the 24 northern states.  With a crowd estimated to be near 15,000 people, the events began with music by Birgfield’s Band and an invocation by Reverend T.H. Stockton.  Next, while Lincoln sat in his chair, observing the events, Everett delivered his long oration.  After Everett finished, with the crowds cheering, a hymn by B.B. French was sung.  Lincoln would slowly stand up, and walk to the podium.  While several versions of the Gettysburg Address exist, the so called Bliss version is accepted as the short speech he delivered.  Less than 300 words, the speech was said to take between two and three minutes to deliver.  In fact, it was so short that most of the crowd did not realize Lincoln had concluded until he stepped away from the podium.  As Lincoln started speaking, his high-pitched voice could be heard clearly by the gathered spectators….

“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.

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 battle-field 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 do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground.  The brave me, 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 an increased devotion to the 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.”

It is said, that as Lincoln walked back to his seat, he believed that his speech would not be well accepted.  As might be expected, the opposition Democrat newspapers claimed it was parochial and embarrassing.  The Republican papers, however, offered much praise for Lincoln’s address.  But, Edward Everett summed it up best in a letter to Lincoln, on November 20, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”(ii)  After the speech, Lincoln provided two drafts and three copies of the speech.  One draft went to each of his secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay.  Three copies were written for Edward Everett, historian George Bancroft and Bancroft’s stepson, Colonel Alexander Bliss.  The Hay and Nicolay drafts are located in the Library of Congress.  Everett’s copy is at the Illinois State Historical Library, in Springfield, Illinois, Bancroft’s is at Cornell University and the Bliss copy is in the Lincoln Room, at the White House.

The Gettysburg Address is considered one of the greatest speeches ever given in American history.  While it was given nearly 150 years ago, its tenets still ring true in the United States today, “Liberty,” “all men are created equal,” “freedom,” “government of the people, by the people for the people.”  These are the underpinnings that make the United States the best country in the world.  While I nearly know the Gettysburg address by heart, the words still move me – making me proud to say I am an American.  Thank you, Abraham Lincoln.

(i) The Gettysburg Address, at the Library of Congress, was used to research this article.
(ii) A Gracious Compliment, at the Library of Congress, for more information, click HERE.

About Michael Noirot

I grew up in the Central Illinois farming community, of Dunlap. Growing up, I played sports, tinkered with cars and enjoyed photography. While I did well in school, I did not become passionate about history until my early 30's. I have built a large library, of books on early America, politics and the Civil War. I am an avid reader. Fortunately, I have had plenty of opportunities to travel, over the years, and have been to most of the Civil War battlefields. I work while I travel, so more often than not, I am up, in the middle of the night, to get sunrise pictures, or I will be out until well after dark, exploring Civil War battlefields. I have other hobbies, and passions, that I really enjoy. Number one on the list would be guitar. I play my guitars on a regular basis, and enjoy the Bluegrass, and Contemporary Christian (CCM) genres. I play a style of guitar, called FLATPICKING, where using a flat pick, you play lead solos, similar to the way a fiddle would have been played during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Laura, my wife, and I also enjoy scuba diving, travel and spending time at our property, in the country. Lastly, we spend as much time with our families, as possible. Thanks for stopping by.
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2 Responses to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

  1. maccars says:

    Michael – a wonderfully written piece on Lincoln and his passion for our country. His word still ring very true a century and a half later. Thank you.

    Thank you for the kind words about my article on Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.

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