Four score and seven years ago…
November 19, 1863: After a 2 hour speech by one of the most famed orators of the era, Abraham Lincoln made a few “appropriate remarks” that became one of the most brilliant and powerful expressions of the democratic vision ever written (spoken), the Gettysburg Address. It took him only 272 words, just a bit over 2 minutes to reflect on his belief that the Civil War was not only a fight to save the Union but a declaration of freedom and equality for all. [above: Lincoln giving his Gettysburg Address – painting by Fletcher Cransom]
More than 45,000 men were killed, captured or injured during the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. 45,000… that’s a lot of blood.
An attorney, David Wills (left) bought 17 acres of pasture land to turn it into a cemetery for more than 7500 Gettysburg dead. Wills invited the famed orator, Edward Everett, to deliver a speech and almost as an afterthought asked Lincoln requesting, “a few appropriate remarks” to concentrate the grounds.
Afterward Everett sent a letter to the President praising his speech for its eloquence and concision saying, “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.”
Lincoln replied that he was glad to know the speech was not a “total failure”.
Sarah A. Cooke Myers, an eye witness to the ceremony (she was 19 when she attended) recollected that the response from the crowd was hushed. When he stopped speaking there was initially no applause, “the applause was delayed, scattered, and “barely polite”. Pennsylvania Governor Curtin said, “He pronounced that speech in a voice that all the multitude heard. The crowd was hushed into silence because the President stood before them … It was so Impressive! It was the common remark of everybody.”
Regarding the above picture, from author,Craig Heberton, his ebook- ABRAHAM LINCOLN AT GETTYSBURG: A REVIEW OF ALEXANDER GARDNER’S STEREOSCOPIC PHOTOGRAPHS (2012).
An eyewitness to the event, Professor Henry E. Jacobs, then a student at Gettysburg’s Lutheran Seminary, recollected that:
“As Mr. Everett was closing his oration, Mr. Lincoln, I thought, was showing some of that nervousness, which, according to Cicero, characterizes all successful oratory. His mind evidently was not on what Mr. Everett was saying, but on his own speech. He drew from his pocket a metallic case and adjusted a pair of steel glasses near the top of his nose. Then, reaching into the side pocket of his coat, he produced a crumpled sheet of paper, which he first carefully smoothed and then read for a few minutes. By this time Mr. Everett had reached his final periods.”
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 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.
November 19, 1863