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Remembering Lincoln's ‘Gettysburg Address’

 

During three long days in July 1863, 172,000 soldiers fought the Battle of Gettysburg, a battle that became a turning point in the Civil War.

Following the battle of Gettysburg, bodies of more than 7,500 soldiers and 5,000 horses were left on the battlefield. David Willis, a young local attorney, paid $2,476 for 17 acres of the battlefield to be used as a cemetery for those who died.

Four months later, President Abraham Lincoln was the second speaker at the dedication of that Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Following the well-known orator, Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours before a crowd estimated at 15,000, Mr. Lincoln gave his “Gettysburg Address,” a speech lasting only a couple of minutes. Nevertheless, Lincoln’s speech remains one of the most-quoted political speeches in American history.

The next day, following the dedication, Mr. Everett reportedly wrote to Lincoln, “Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity and appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. 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.”

June 1, 1865, at President Lincoln’s funeral, Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner, in his eulogy for the slain president, also mentioned Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” He referred to it as a “monumental act” and said he thought Lincoln misspoke when he said “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here ...”

“Instead,” Sumner said, “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech.”

Gettysburg Address

Delivered in Gettysburg, Pa., Nov. 19, 1863:

“Fourscore 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 battlefield 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 should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate ... we cannot consecrate ... we cannot hallow ... this ground. The brave men, 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 increased devotion to that 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.”

At least five copies of the Gettysburg Address are known to exist, each differing slightly in wording, punctuation, and structure. The copy above is inscribed on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

 
 
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