So what was Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address? Actually, the exact site where Lincoln gave his most famous speech, perhaps the greatest in American history, is still disputed. While two markers at the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War claim to be the spot, historians believe the actual location was outside of the cemetery grounds at an older, private graveyard.
Doesn’t really matter, of course. In fact, the fact that he gave a speech at all at the dedication was an afterthought by the man charged with burying the tens of thousands of soldiers who died in the battle five months earlier. Edward Everett, a former secretary of state, was chosen to give the keynote speech which he did, rambling on for more than 13,000 words and almost two hours.
Lincoln was asked to attend the cemetery dedication and make a few remarks just two weeks prior to the Nov. 19, 1863, event. He hastily prepared a short speech which he read, by all accounts, from the paper he took with him to the podium. By his own words, it was something he didn’t think would be memorable noting that, “the world will little note, nor long remember” it.
How wrong he was. It was short, only about 270 words, and delivered in less than two minutes. But it’s worth remembering and repeating here:
“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon 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, 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 so 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 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.”
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.