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.

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

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. acardnal says:

    I have visited Gettysburg battlefield. It has a great museum! And one can also visit former President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s retirement home which is on adjoining grounds. Thank for reading the address Father Z.

  2. Il Ratzingeriano says:

    Yes unquestionably one of the greatest speeches ever. With a beautiful cadence created through a masterful repetition of poetic phrases it brilliantly links the lives and deaths of the soldiers to the life and death of the nation. In positing that the nation would find life (a “new birth”) through the death of the soldiers the address might even be said to evoke subtly the resurrection of Christ.

  3. Charivari Rob says:

    That’s interesting information about Eisenhower, acardnal, thank you. I might have dredged up the fact that Eisenhower’s home (the only one he ever owned, other than perhaps the piece of that castle in Scotland) was in PA, but I had never realized it was so close to the Civil War site.
    For some reason, I’ve never been to Gettysburg, and really want to rectify that.
    Interestingly, here in Boston I’m a short distance away from Edward Everett Square. I don’t know as much about him as I’d like (besides the fact of the 13607-word speech), but one thing I do know and love is one of the more self-aware quotes I’ve ever read. In a note to Lincoln, he said “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.”

  4. Greg Hlatky says:

    Father William Corby, chaplain of the 88th New York regiment, gave a general absolution to the Irish Brigade before the second day of Gettysburg. Of the 3000 members of the brigade, only 500 answered the roll the next day.


  5. VonOrigen says:

    For those interested in knowing the full story of the Address, I would commend to your attention “The Gettysburg Gospel,” an insightful book by my old prof at Gettysburg College, Gabor Borritt. Also recommended are Harry Jaffa’s books on Lincoln’s political philosophy, “Crisis of the House Divided” and “A New Birth of Freedom.” They’re intellectually rigorous, but well worth the effort. Then again, if you’ve read Bruce Catton or Shelby Foote’s histories of the Civil War, you’re way ahead of the game.

    The greatly accomplished Edward Everett, who spoke before Lincoln at the commemoration on November 19, subsequently wrote to him: “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.” Make it a point one day to have your children read that speech aloud at the cemetery, as I did with mine this year.

    As a student, I once had the pleasure of helping march a very large American flag to the national cemetery. Also had the honor of escorting Margaret Beckwith, the last living descendent of Abraham Lincoln, to a number of festivities at the College to commemorate the Address. She was a gracious and grand dame.

    May God rest the souls of the honored dead, known and unknown, who lay at Gettysburg and at all cemeteries of the Civil War.

  6. Andreas says:

    President Lincoln, like most of the Presidents until Harding, wrote his own speeches, and for me this is the most moving. In his Smithsonian Magazine article on this and Lincoln’s art of speechwriting, Theodore Sorenson noted that, “But the triumph of this greatest example of American public speech did not come from devices alone. Lincoln had in addition two great qualities infusing his use of those devices. First, he had a poetic literary sensibility. He was aware of the right rhythm and sound. An editor of the Gettysburg Address might say that “Eighty-seven years ago” is shorter. Lincoln wrote instead, “Four score and seven years ago.” (ref.: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ted-sorensen-on-abraham-lincoln-a-man-of-his-words-12048177).

    Interestingly, as a follow-up to VonOrigen’s very interesting post above, Sorenson made note that the press gave short shrift to the President’s fine words that day: “The Massachusetts statesman Edward Everett, with his two-hour speech filled with classical allusions, had been the designated orator of the day. The president was up and quickly down with his dedicatory remarks in a few short minutes. Some newspapers reported: “The President also spoke.”

  7. WVC says:

    As a Southerner, I’d like to point out that the Confederacy was a government of the people, for the people and by the people as well, an that thanks to Lincoln’s war it sure as heck perished from the earth.

    Much honor and prayers to the brave souls, both Union and Confederate, that perished in that terrible war, but my opinion of St. Lincoln is somewhat below the modern standard.

    [And yet his Address remains an amazing speech.]

  8. Simon_GNR says:

    WVC, let me correct part of what you wrote:

    “the Confederacy was a government of the people, for the [white] people and by the [white] people…”

    There, that’s better.

  9. Bellarmino Vianney says:

    “…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.”

    There is a new type of slavery that was established during the Bush-Obama years. It is quickly making the government of the people perish.

    This slavery is the Surveillance State which utilizes harassment and intimidation tactics against those who publicly oppose the tyranny of the Left (homosexualists and other perversions, multi-culturalism, Islam, etc.). Those people are then wrongly labeled as “threats” (the replacement word for “enemies of the state”) by the Surveillance State, and thus, they are able to proceed with slavery-like and Gestapo-like tactics.

    This slavery imposed by the Surveillance State/New Gestapo is largely unnoticed at the present time due to the ability of the surveillors to remain hidden behind their “law enforcement” privilege which allows them to keep all of their likely unconstitutional tactics hidden from the vast majority of American citizens.

    But this Surveillance State is present, and it is a major threat to the freedom of each citizen in the United States of America as it was founded.

    It is the “Deep State” which is much more widely distributed than most people realize. It is a combination of the anti-Trumpers as well as the other Leftists. They are all idolaters in one way or another.

    It is a New Gestapo, and it operates much like the Old Gestapo – it utilizes the willingness of priests and laity to participate in types of psychological harassment schemes under the color of law (say, for example, under the false pretense of “investigating a potential threat” [read instead: “harassing and intimidating a public nuisance to the Democrat party]).

    What is needed most at the present time is surveillance By the People and For The People – in other words, the American people should be surveilling law enforcement, the FBI, the NSA, the CIA, etc. They should not be permitted to keep things secret.

    A noted author once wrote that every totalitarian entity has a secret police force/Gestapo. You can guaran-darn-tee that the Democrat Party established such a police force during the Obama years.

    The Surveillance State is contrary to the founding of the U.S., contrary to the above words of Abraham Lincoln, and it is a new type of slavery.

  10. pbnelson says:

    @WVC, as a Yankee from a long line of Yankees, I’d like you to know we’re not all acolytes of the Cult Of Lincoln up here.

    I find it particularly galling that with this speech Lincoln uses a memorial service for partisan purposes, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion”. This, on the battlefield where 50000 men died. British WWI General Douglas “Butcher” Haig couldn’t have said it better himself.

    Really, the entire speech is an exercise in begging the question, namely, whether or not the seceding states were destroying the principles of republican government, or defending them. There’s not a slam dunk answer in either case, but this speech simply posits Lincoln’s personal political position as a universal truth and wraps it up in a musical cadence.

    But, hey, it’s the right length for an exercise in grammar school memorization so the victors have used it ever since as rationalization and indoctrination.

    What I struggle to understand is why so many traditionalists seem to have drunk the cool aid. I suspect they’re parroting their immigrant ancestors who came here after the war, didn’t have a dog in the fight, and readily offered devotion to Lincoln to establish their True American Credentials.

    p.s. One thing I really hate is when someone picks “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a hymn for mass on Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

  11. WVC says:

    @pbnelson – I will happily buy you a drink if ever our paths cross! And a double “Amen” on the Battle Hymn of the Republic!

    @Simon_GNR – if you think Lincoln was including African Americans in his government “for the people” – I suggest you read a little bit more about the man. He was on the “can’t we just ship all these folks back to Africa” bandwagon. He did not hold African Americans in very high regard, but he was happy to use them as political and military pawns when it suited his purposes.

    @Fr. Z – no argument from me – for all his many faults, Lincoln’s rhetorical skills were excellent.

  12. Semper Gumby says:

    Thanks Fr. Z for the podcast. A masterpiece of a speech. A tactical masterpiece at Gettysburg was performed by Col. Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine at Little Round Top.

    Great comments here, including those of WVC and pbnelson. The tone and content of those comments further illustrate why the Confederacy had to be destroyed.

  13. WVC says:

    @Semper Gumby – geez! My comments were validation for hundreds of thousands of men to be killed and an entire half of the country to be reconstructed into abject poverty for decades? Who knew? Maybe it was the part where I said we should pray for and honor the souls of both sides – is that what got your dander up so high?

    You I will most certainly not be buying a drink. I might buy you a decent history book, though, if you ask nicely.

  14. Semper Gumby says:

    WVC: You are proving my point.

  15. I has been while since I have had to close down a combox exchange. Too bad I must do so now.

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