Today marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, given to commemorate the fallen soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg. As a history nerd, I feel the need to geek out and write about it. As Lincoln said, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”
I love the Gettysburg Address. And that’s an understatement. No joke, I have a framed copy of the Gettysburg Address on my bedroom wall. I asked for it for Christmas one year, that’s how much I wanted it. I read the speech often, and no matter how many times I’ve read it, I still get goosebumps when perusing those hallowed like it’s the first time.
The beauty of the Gettysburg Address is in its simplicity. Lincoln was not actually the keynote speaker at the commemoration ceremony that day. That distinction belonged to a popular orator of the day, Edward Everett. Before Lincoln took the stage, Everett spoke for two hours comparing the Battle of Gettysburg to battles of antiquity such as Marathon, and spoke about how opposing sides in previous civil wars were able to reconcile their differences afterward. Then Lincoln rose and delivered his now famous speech which lasted barely two minutes. The next day, Everett wrote a letter to Lincoln and stated, “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.”
In only 10 sentences, Lincoln redefined the Civil War as a struggle not just for the Union, but also for the principle of human equality. He spoke of how democracy itself rested upon “the proposition that all men are created equal”, a profound and politically risky statement at the time.
However, the speech was not immediately recognized as a literary achievement. The Chicago times published an editorial arguing, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.” I’m glad that 150 years later everyone can recognize what an eloquent and elegant speech it remains.
Lincoln only got one thing wrong in his speech - “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” The world has greatly noted and long remembered your words, Mr. Lincoln.