19 Nov 1863: The Gettysburg Address

Today is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.   It wasn’t much attended at the moment, but over time it has been recognized one of the greatest public speeches ever delivered.

Four and a half months after the Battle of Gettysburg, on the afternoon of Thursday 19 November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a "few appropriate remarks" at the dedication of the cemetery for fallen soldiers.

After a 13,607 word speech by Edward Everett, the President’s address consisted of 10 sentences in 272 words.

This address took me only about 2 minutes to read aloud.


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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Jack Hughes says:

    not Mr Licons greatest fan but he was a fine orator as are you Father.

  2. Peggy R says:

    Garry Wills, dissenting Catholic, wrote a whole book about the Gettysburg Address. I enjoyed it.

  3. Kerry says:

    Hmmm…272 words, still memorized delivered; 13,607 words. Edward who…? Barak…who? Greatest orater since Edward Everett …Horton?

  4. matt1618 says:

    “The world will little note, nor long remember what Mr. Everett…’er…I mean…we say here..” :)

  5. mrsmontoya says:

    This is one of the pieces my husband recorded for me to play back to our first child in vitro. I heard it along with her 3 times a day for the second and third trimesters.

    One of us knows it by heart.

  6. Del says:

    :) Dear Mrs. Montoya —

    What a beautiful story!

    However, I am convinced that you meant to write “in utero.” Perhaps Fr. Z will edit that for you.

  7. Clinton says:

    I went to high school in a small town in East Texas in the ’80’s. That speech was one of the pieces we were all required to memorize
    in sophomore English class. Are schoolchildren still doing that?

  8. Melody says:

    Clinton: I had to as a middle schooler in the 90s.

  9. jaykay says:

    It was in the school English reader I had at about the age of 12… and that was in Ireland! (circa ’72/73) It was there because it was recognised as a fine piece of classical English writing. The same reader also contained Lepanto.

  10. wanda says:

    Thank you Father. Well done. Thanks be to God that we do note and long remember and honor those who gave their lives for our freedoms.

    Don’t tred on me.

  11. chcrix says:


    Expand your horizons. Try Tom DiLorenzo’s “The real Lincoln”


    (Does Fr. Z get credit if you click in from a comment?)

  12. irishgirl says:

    Great reading, Fr. Z!

    How I wish we had such leaders today!

    I’ve never been to Gettysburg myself, but I have a sister who is ‘nuts’ about the place. She’s been there a lot of times-her favorite ‘Gettysburg general’ is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who was from Maine.

  13. mpm says:

    No folks, start with Harry V. Jaffa, “A new birth of freedom”.

    He’ll make you think Lincoln was a Thomist moral theologian. And I think Lincoln’s kind of moral thinking was a whole lot more Catholic than the Kantian transcendentalism of the Abolitionists.

    Sorry, chcrix!

  14. mpm says:

    I have been to Gettysburg, as well as the nearby Antietam battlfield (Sharpsburg, MD).

    One of the beauties of both is that they haven’t experienced the Disnification process. Gettysburg is much more visited than Antietam, and yet they have managed over the years to prevent a lot of touristic junk from accruing (in 2000 or so, they destroyed the “observation tower” that some private group had erected because it changed the pristineness of the views).

    Antietam is also very well preserved, in the midst of continually working farms, etc.

    I enthusiastically recommend visiting both. A lot of Americans on both sides suffered and died in both places. And Lincoln visited both of them.

  15. Cath says:

    My third grade daughter who is in public school is learning it right now. Not sure how much they will end up able to say, but she has the first two paragraphs down fairly well.

  16. Penguins Fan says:

    I have been to Gettysburg many times, when I lived near Baltimore – it was only about an hour and ten minutes away. It is a beautiful and haunting place.

    The family stopped at Antietam last summer when we were returning to Pittsburgh from Washington. The feelings were similar.

    In both cases, had the Union continued – or been able – to press the attack the Confederates could have been destroyed.

  17. Bornacatholic says:

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war,
    No. The War for Southern Independence was being fought. The South had no desire to have a war over who would run the country because it wanted out of the union. there was no civil war

  18. Bornacatholic says:

    The South had a right to secede, a right admitted to by John Quincy Adams in his speech on the Jubilee of The Constitution.


  19. Bornacatholic says:

    Mr. Jaffa is anathema to those who love Liberty. Better to read Mr. Livingston’s summation. That is all I will post on the matter


  20. Unvanquished says:

    I too had to memorize this as a boy in 7th Grade. It is indeed a fine speech, but I must add my voice to those who do not buy into the idea of “Lincoln As Our Greatest President” (or even a good one for that matter).

  21. Fleeb says:

    This will elicit some strong responses, but I couldn’t let this continue without comment.

    Note on the Gettysburg Address
    by H.L. Mencken

    “The Gettysburg speech was at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history…the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination – that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves.”

    -It wasn’t about slavery…read Lincoln’s own word to Horace Greeley:

    “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

    If we as Catholics propose to the world that we have the full Truth, then let’s stop lying to ourselves about other “truths”.

    The government schools “train” us to believe Lincoln was a kindly, freedom-loving man. While he may have been kindly when it mattered, his true beliefs about liberty were less than commendable. His sole reason for attacking the South was to continue the influx of tariffs to the federal coffers, which in turn were used to improve Northern infrastructure. He was a railroad lawyer with many connections in northern industrial powers…not unlike the current president, he owed A LOT to his benefactors and handlers.

    From his 1st Inaugural Address:

    “…In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion — no using of force against or among the people anywhere.”

    He believed that what was a VOLUNTARY union of free and independent states could never break apart. This bizarre notion is repudiated by two Founding Fathers: Madison and Jefferson. In their writings (The Virginia Resolves and Kentucky Resolves) both made clear that states not only had the right to nullify federal law, but they had the right to secede if warranted.

    The wedges driven between the North and South were:
    1. Slavery, and it’s spread to the west…more “slave” states, more respresentation in congress which was viewed as a direct threat to Northern power/money interests;
    2. Tariffs, in which many all-year ports such as Savannah, Charleston, Mobile, New Orleans were the major sources of federal income (there was no income tax, until ahem, Lincoln created the first one)…no tariff money, no money to the “friends” of northern congressmen;
    3. Finally, the question of federalism was at stake, with the Hamiltonians (Lincoln was a believer in the “American System” in which public money could be used for private gain) and the Jeffersonians (mainly in the South) finally shedding blood. Of course, the Federalists won and EVERY president since has upheld this mantle regardless of party affiliation…AND EVERYONE COMPLAINS ABOUT THE POWER OF THE FED.

    Thank the “god” Lincoln, whose image is on display in the “Parthenon of America”.

    Catholic writer Thomas Woods has an excellent article (http://www.lewrockwell.com/woods/woods58.html and here http://www.lewrockwell.com/woods/woods31.html). Lerone Bennett, Jr. (a black writer) wrote “Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream”.

    The worship of this man continues to baffle. There is truth out there, we just need to stop being intellectually lazy about it.

    We ask Protestants to seek the Truth, let’s try seeking it for ourselves in other areas.

  22. Jordanes says:

    “The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves.”

    But fought for the right of their people to continue to prevent a large part of their population from governing themselves, so Lincoln’s words are accurate after all, and Mencken is, as usual, wrong.

  23. Fleeb says:


    If you read a bit more than what the government schools call history books, you’ll find that many in the north did not want to fight for slaves, but to maintain the Union. When the public–as it always does–began to talk against the war, Lincoln jailed citizens, closed down newspapers, and even deported an Ohio congressman! He even declared martial law in Maryland and threated the entire Maryland Legislature with prison if they voted for seccession! When Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney ruled against Lincoln, he threatened to jail him! Can anyone imagine this behavior from Bush or Obama?

    There is logical reasons to believe that slavery would die out under its own weight. It was morally rehensible to be sure, but also inefficient. With a separate nation to the north, escaped slaves could not be returned as the Fugitive Slave Law required. Slavery ended throughout the Western Hemisphere peacefully, except in the United States.

    The killing of civilians by a government in war at the scale by the hands of the federal government was unheard of until the War. Wholesale shelling of towns was common by federal armies. Sherman’s march to the sea was an act of barbarity, yet sanctioned by Lincoln and his war minister Edmund Stanton. Sherman was proud he killed women and children and after the war took his disgusting campaign to the Indian Tribes. Yet we hold him up as a great general. It this worth Union? Is killing fellow citizens the answer to ending slavery? If you believe slavery and abortion are evils (which they are), then why don’t we condone violence against all pro-abortion civilians? Because it would be wrong, just like your contention that violence agains the South to end slavery was justified.

    The Nazi regime was an evil that needed to be stopped, especially in light of its war against non-Aryans. This war was justified. Slavery was/is and evil, but the masters were not engaged in wholesale killings of their slaves or invading countries. These were our fellow citizens, and though the MAJORITY of southerners did not own slaves, the federal government sought to destroy the south and bring it into submission–and to end slavery? Are you kidding me?

    The war was not to end slavery. It was later clothed in this noble mission, but in truth, it was to consolidate power in the hands of the few, maintain a forced union, and to nationalize our government. The concept of free and independent states organized under a federal system was a threat, and Lincoln destroyed it, along with 600,000+ lives and billions in property.

    The war or Lincoln did not free any slaves. The congress did, in the fall of 1865, with full support from the southern states. Only when the 14th amendment was rejected by the southern states did the scourge of “Reconstruction” begin. The irony of these two amendments is that the southern states were considered in the Union when they voted for the 13th amendment, but outside the Union when they rejected the 14th. Their “readmission” was contingent on their passage of the 14th amendment. This logic only works in the halls of congress…

    Brick by brick to coin a phrase. If this gets you to read more, or pick up a book or article. Here’s an article by Walter William (a black man no less) on this subject: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig2/w-williams1.html

  24. Antiquarian says:


    You have as simplistic a view of history as that which you criticize in others. Yes, the origins and motivations of the Civil War were complex, and many commonly accepted notions don’t tell the whole story. Neither does the slanted version of the noble “Lost Cause” Confederate sympathizers have touted since the South was defeated. Your inference that those who don’t see things your way are ignorant of all the facts is a false one.

  25. mpm says:

    Fleeb says,

    “There is [sic] logical reasons to believe that slavery would die out under its own weight.”

    Maybe, but there were real historical reasons to think that slavery was going to continue forever. What came to be called the Thirteenth Amendment (freeing the slaves forever) started out in life as an Amendment to establish slavery in every state and territory of the Union. And it was making its way through Congress, and the Democrats had plenty of votes to make it happen, but then the Southern Democrats took their states out of the Union.

    History is not political philosophy.

  26. Fleeb says:

    I don’t infer anything, and I don’t imply anything either. If folks are that thin skinned about debate, perhaps one should merely observe. I’m not criticizing other’s views but am critical of how the history books portray the war. And I’m certainly not dreaming of halcyon days of the antebellum South. Just some honest dialogue.

    I know this makes many uncomfortable to know there’s more to their beliefs than what they’ve been told. Imagine how Protestants feel when they learn that their faith doesn’t have all the truth.

    Lincoln supported the 13th amendment if truth be told. If the south knew this, why did they secede?

    You all can continue to bash me, but you need to answer this: was it worth all the lives and property?

  27. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    Yeah, they still make you memorize the Address in middle school.

  28. brtinla says:

    Surely the Good Father is aware that the Vatican newspaper editorialized on behalf of the South throughout the war, and the Pope sent President Jefferson Davis a crown of thorns.

    While President Lincolns words were eloquent, his conduct throughout the war were less than chivilrous, indeed the concept of Total war had been repungnent to Christian peoples for 1000 years. The concept of Knighthood died during the civil war and paved the way for the atrocities of the 20th century.

    Conversly, Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia according to the highest standards of Knighthood and chivilry, with care for civilian property and deference to women.

  29. bookworm says:

    It is true that Lincoln’s conduct of the Civil War took it beyond the traditional limits of 18th-century warfare, wherein uniformed soldiers all marched in straight lines, shot only at one another, and anything off the battlefield was considered out of bounds.

    However the rules of war he established kept it from degenerating into unbridled raping, pillaging, and slaughtering civilians such as had already taken place in “Bleeding Kansas” and Missouri before the war even began, and had occurred all the way back to ancient times. Sherman’s March to the Sea is nowhere near in the same league with, say, the Rape of Nanking by the Japanese, the Soviet occupation of Berlin, the Rwandan genocide, or the Bosnian “ethnic cleansing” campaign. It was really World War I that created total war as we know it today.

    If you read “April 1865: The Month that Saved a Nation” you will discover that the restraint shown by Lincoln, Grant, and Lee at the end of the war, and the further restraint shown by new President Johnson and others after Lincoln’s assassination (refraining from attempts to wreak vengeance against the South) probably kept the United States from suffering through multiple generations of guerrilla warfare/terrorism a la Northern Ireland, the Basque region of Spain, Chechnya, etc.

  30. Jordanes says:

    Fleeb said: If you read a bit more than what the government schools call history books, you’ll find that many in the north did not want to fight for slaves, but to maintain the Union.

    It may help you to know that my degree is in history. It’s never wise to assume that someone with whom you disagree, or think you disagree, knows as much, or as little, about a subject as you do. (And by “you,” I mean “one,” not “you, Fleeb.”)

    The war was not to end slavery.

    Yes and no. Officially it wasn’t to end slavery, but everybody was aware what the issue at the bottom of the conflict really was, and that the South was seceding because the institution of slavery was doomed otherwise.

    Protecting slavery was also one of the motivating factors for getting the Southern colonies to join what was originally a New England uprising in the Revolutionary War — the British Empire was outlawing the slave trade, and the Southern colonists joined the revolt in part because of it.

    The war or Lincoln did not free any slaves. The congress did, in the fall of 1865, with full support from the southern states.

    And of course what Congress did in 1865 would never have happened if the South had not first been beaten into submission.

    your contention that violence agains the South to end slavery was justified.

    When did I make such a contention?

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