Tuesday, November 19, 2013

#633. 150 years ago today...the Gettysburg Address

This was the speech that wasn't supposed to make history.  It was short, not even the featured one on the dedication day.  Lincoln, to be frank, wasn't even that popular.  He got in, got out, and probably thought that was the end of it.

But the Gettysburg Address has become not only a cornerstone of his legacy, but one of the defining moments in the Civil War, American history, politics...It became pretty important.  Here's the text, with italicized phrases that demonstrate how pervasive it's become, because you will surely recognize them:

Four scour and seven years ago our forefathers 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 should do this. 
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not 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 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 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.

It is indeed a short speech, and much of it is filled with formalities, but it reaches a crescendo at precisely the moment it needs to, striking memorable turns of phrase, some of them ironic (we do note, Abe, we do), and none of them addressed directly to Union or Confederate interests, but rather the nation as a whole, which was always his great concern.  It's remarkable for everything it isn't, and for everything it is.  No politician today would stake his reputation on so few words, although some of his noteworthy successors (FDR, JFK, Reagan) as orators understood what he had stumbled upon in all modesty, that it's not the empty rhetoric but sincere emotion and conviction that rings most true.

6 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

And he just scribbled it down on the way there, not like presidents today who have a dozen speechwriters and teleprompters to feed them lines.

Tony Laplume said...

He wrote it on a train. An indication that trains are an excellent place to write.

DAVID WALSTON said...

The only trains I have ever ridden in is the mini-trains in zoos and parks.

Maurice Mitchell said...

One of the greatest speeches ever written. The man didn't even use a speech writer.

Tony Laplume said...

David, you really need to ride a real train. And not just hoping that you too will write a brilliant speech.

Mitchell, that's why I cringe about the whole concept of speech writers. You want someone in office who is good enough to write their own darn material.

The Armchair Squid said...

Say a lot with a little - he was very good at that.

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