19 November 1863: The Gettysburg Address

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.

Today is the 148th anniversary of the greatest pieces of public oratory in history.

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  1. Supertradmum says:

    “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”

    We memorized this in 6th grade. Such words not only form our character, but how we reason and how we write. God bless Lincoln, all those soldiers, and the United States. And, God bless Catholic Classical Education

  2. Gregorius says:

    I live in the area, and yet I haven’t heard much hype about it. Though I do know some people who went up for the reenactment. Maybe when we hit 150 it’ll get more attention.
    Also, you visit the area again sometime, Fr. Z. It looks as though you had a pleasant visit to the Mount last time you were in the area…

  3. John Nolan says:

    As a ten-year-old English boy I also learned this by heart. I was not to know then that his words are not so highly regarded south of the Mason-Dixon line. One particular rhetorical flourish viz. “we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow – this ground”, occurs also in the Roman Canon: “haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata” and “hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam”. Lincoln of course had the benefit of a classical education. I wonder whether those who so vehemently object to the above Latin phrases being literally translated are equally scathing about Abe’s prose style.

  4. asperges says:

    I rather liked the version sung by Dewey (from Malcolm in the Middle) at the school concert!

    As to the Latin translations quoted above, the first is dreadful; the second is better, but overall it is a good example of how originals of great merit in one language are best left untranslated into another.

  5. Clinton says:

    Supertradmum, I was also memorized the Gettysburg Address in school. I wonder if kids
    are still required to memorize such things, or if the ideas behind such teaching are out of fashion.

  6. frjim4321 says:


    I completely agree!

    I could never determine whether the actual actor sang it, or if the actor was lip syncing another person’s singing.

    I was able to verify that Bryan Cranston did in fact do the singing for the opera-themed show; but I don’t know if Eric Per Sullivan is a singer.

  7. frhumphries says:

    All may agree that it is a great piece of oratory, but Southern Catholics would call it propaganda or sophistry as well.
    A brief, historically valid rant:
    Mr. Lincoln’s government was not of the people, nor by the people, nor for the people – it was of the Northern Aristocracy, by the Northern Aristocracy and for the Northern Aristocracy. And for the great crime of declaring the same independence that thirteen colonies had declared 87 years before, the South was decimated.
    Beware the historian who believes that the War Between the States was a war fought over racism or slavery… It was fought for the same reason every war has been fought since the Assyrian Empire fell: money. Remember that President Jeff Davis adopted a black child before the war began and that the Emancipation Proclamation was carefully worded to free only the slaves in those areas already liberated by northern soldiers… The south was rich, the north wasn’t… ’nuff said.
    This concludes my rant.
    Either way, it’s a great speech.

  8. Thomas G. says:

    I too memorized this address when I was a young sprout, knee-high to a grasshopper. The Battle of Gettysburg also provides a useful parallel: Vatican II was the ‘Pickett’s charge’ of the Modernists. Almost succeeded, but not quite.

  9. mike cliffson says:

    Cousins , in hopes you will:
    Stay” under God”
    or you’re gone

  10. Phillip says:

    The Gettysburg Address is one of those few things which, along with the first few paragraphs to the Declaration of Independence I can’t help but feel an odd surge of patriotism upon hearing.

    @John Nolan: THAT IS SO COOL. I never noticed the parallels between the two texts. Did you realize this yourself or did someone point it out to you?

    Also, Malcolm in the Middle was a brilliant show.

  11. digdigby says:

    Poor Everett –
    He was a fine man, one of the great orators of the age, a fierce Unionist and loyal to Lincoln. He even said himself, “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.” Take a look at the ‘other’ Gettysburg Address and marvel at the patience of media-less audiences of the time.

  12. Gulielmus says:


    Of course, the case can quite equally be made that your “valid” argument is based on the post-war “Lost Cause” fiction devised when the South, clearly losing, came up with a reason other than slavery for their quixotic actions. They needed to ignore the historical facts, such as the statements by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, who in 1861 definitively declared the reason for secession to be the defense of slavery. as defeat neared for the South, yes, propaganda came into force as the losing forces realized how untenable their justifications had become, and thus the “Lost Cause” obfuscation.

  13. RichardT says:

    I’ve never read it before, but have just done so now because of this. Very good oratory (although to my ear the opening “four score years and seven” sounds a bit clunky).

    I hadn’t realised that it was delivered while the war was still on; I had assumed it was about national reconciliation rather than rallying his own side. Interesting how wrong one can be.

    But I did like this comment on it:
    “Lincoln had mastered the sound of the King James Bible so completely that he could … make the proposition that Texas and New Hampshire should be forever bound by a single post office sound like something right out of Genesis”

  14. A lot of people back then liked really long speeches. (You may as well get your money’s worth, if you take the trouble to go all the way to town.) There are still people out there who think that a sermon should be at least an hour or two hours long, or they’re just wasting their time in church.

  15. Father H.,
    The South never had a better friend than A. Lincoln. Try reading the address again (and the Second Inaugural) without prejudice and the “hermeneutic of suspicion,” and you will see why. Booth, unwittingly, was the South’s worst enemy.

    Of course, you are right, but throwing slavery in the face of one proud of his southern heritage is not worthy of a man of the Union. –The Union Forever!

  16. digdigby says:

    Revising the revisions I’d say, yes, the war really WAS about slavery. The Fugitive Slave Bill was the last straw. When arrogant Southerners had the nerve to tell Bostonians that they were legally responsible for catching their ‘runaway property’ an African-American gentleman named Thomas Sims and delivering him in chains like an animal to Virginia. Faneuil Hall was packed to the rafters. When Theodore Parker began his speech with bitter irony, “Fellow citizens of Virginia….” the uproar of the crowd went on and on and at that moment, the war had begun. There was no going back.

  17. thoscole says:

    It was, indeed, a brilliant speech, regardless of what one thinks of the President who delivered it.

    As a Virginia resident, and great-great grandchild of Confederate veterans, I still don’t understand the idea of a free union maintained by coercion and the bayonet. The People of Virginia and their government voted to abstain from an invasion of the Deep South as commanded by President Lincoln. For that, they paid dearly.

  18. Gallia Albanensis says:

    If memory serves, didn’t the pope send a crown of thorns to Jefferson Davis?

    Why is it that American Catholics say the ends don’t justify the means, until it comes to American military action? Slavery is a terrible thing, but a lesser evil than abortion, and we decry violence in that arena. Oh, but that’s right … individual violence is different from state-sponsored violence. It would have been interesting to see what all the jingoistic Catholics would have done if there was a secession after Roe V. Wade.

    Also, I suggest the book “Puritan’s Empire” by Charles Coulombe for an excellent Catholic treatment of the Southern secession, and similar issues.

  19. Bruce says:


    As a Canadian I did not realized the hatred that some southerners have for Lincoln. It reminds me of the left’s hatred for Bush. BDS, how about LDS.

  20. MissOH says:

    We have been to Gettysburg a couple of times since we moved to this area. The last time, my husband was able to show our daughter the name of her great-great-great grandfather whose name is on the Pennsylvania monument. (You can’t miss it as it is the largest in the park and has the names of all Pennsylvanians who fought for the union). When she is older, I will make certain she knows this speech and other great speeches of our countries history. We will teach her of the paternal relatives in Virginia, who understood that our country must remain united and who joined the Loudoun County Rangers . She will also learn of her relatives on my side of the family, who were enslaved in southern Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia and who became free and were able to begin achieving their American dream once the idea that state’s rights, did not extend to depriving others of their liberty was settled. It was economics on many levels, but the south was relying on a poison platform which they would not or felt they could not leave, and that was against all enshrined in our Constitution.

  21. Banjo pickin girl says:

    RichardT, It begins “Fourscore and seven years ago,” not “Fourscore years and seven.”

  22. Gail F says:

    Bruce: As an American, I am equally shocked by the hatred toward Lincoln in some of these posts. That’s all I’ll say about that.

    A great speech from a great man. Oops, I guess I said something about the above after all.

  23. AnAmericanMother says:

    My complaint isn’t with Lincoln, but with the Radicals in his cabinet who ground the faces of the southerners into the dirt after the war. That’s why Seward and Butler and the rest of the rabble were despised . . . and W.T. Sherman was feted at UCV camps all over the South (Margaret Mitchell to the contrary notwithstanding, bless her heart, she was wrong. You can’t listen to the women when it comes to Reconstruction.)
    J.W. Booth (who was no more a southerner than being born in a barn makes somebody a cow) did the South the worst turn it was possible to do. He set in motion repercussions that continue to the present day.

  24. Nicole says:

    Regarding Abraham Lincoln, he was good insofar as he was an existent man, but evil insofar as his deistic tendencies went. He did not profess to be a Christian, much less a Catholic.

    There is no doubt that Lincoln was a master rhetorician, as is seen in his Gettysburg Address. He milks rhetoric for what it’s worth: the emotional appeal to those who do not often have recourse to intellective processes. But that does not make Lincoln a saint in a respect, perhaps much the opposite. Also, there’s no getting around his proclamation which suspended writs of habeas corpus being declared unconstitutional; or his acts against nature/justice shown in the imposition of an income tax; or his strange/contradictory acts inciting insurrection in the south by “emancipating” the slaves of the south, yet not those owned in federal territories; or his provocative words of “white supremacy.”

    The Gettysburg Address of Abraham Lincoln IS very moving sentimentally, but it has NO real meaning.

  25. AnAmericanMother says:


    Long speeches and long sermons — isn’t that the truth!

    Great scene in Stevenson’s David Balfour (Catriona in Britain) – the sequel to Kidnapped. David, who has been kidnapped but escaped, shows up unexpectedly in Inverary Kirk in the middle of the minister’s sermon — as the preacher is getting to “Thirteenthly, my brethren . . . ” Sim Fraser’s eye lights upon him, he passes a note around, the congregation is aflutter, and the minister never understood why he lost his congregation on his thirteenth point . . .

    Those were the days when you went to preaching in the morning and then went back for a second installment in the afternoon. Most unlike my Methodist grandfather-in-law, who opined, “No souls are saved after the first twenty minutes!”

  26. RichardT says:

    Banjo pickin girl – so it is, sorry.

    But that sounds worse, even clunkier than what I thought it was.

    Seemed to do the job as oratory though.

  27. RichardT says:

    A Welsh friend of mine used to complain about the shortness of English sermons; it seems there still isn’t anything else to do on a Welsh Sunday.

  28. Imrahil says:

    An income tax is not against nature and justice.

    An income tax was introduced in Germany at the instigation of the Center Party, that is of organized Catholicism. (And that was when organized Catholicism was as Catholic with as capital letters as you like.)

  29. JMody says:

    A few tidbits —
    the states’ rights argument cannot hold water unless we talk about the right to own slaves. When we talk about my right to vote to take away your property, that is an issue. It is a DIFFERENT issue to modern sensibilities when the “property” is a human being, but using the state to take away another’s “property” is an issue worth serious debate and action.

    Lincoln and a just war — was war the only way to settle this? Was it truly the last resort? Was the suffering induced by the war less an evil than the evil of slavery? Comparing Lincoln to Bush really ought to include things like “Lincoln received precisely ZERO votes in the South (wasn’t on the ballot)” and “Bush didn’t declare war on the people who want immigration laws enforced.”

    But to the point at hand, you have to look long and hard to find political speeches in the English language that are better than this. Other than Winston Churchill, few can be as succinct and as … is the word I’m looking for “elegant”?

  30. Nicole says:

    Imrahil, the income tax which was instituted by Abraham Lincoln was unjust and against nature, as everyone was taxed regardless of ability to pay.

  31. Imrahil says:

    Thank you!

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