The Gettysburg Address – Summary

On the afternoon of 19th November, 1863, the 16th president of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, delivered a speech at ‘Soldiers National Cemetery’ in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The speech was given when the Union army’s victory was secured over the Confederate army at the battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), a conclusive battle that changed the course of American Civil War (1861-1865).

Political Background

The milieu of the Gettysburg address depended upon the decisive victory of the primary Union army. It was the Army of Potomac led by Major General George Meade who secured victory over the confederate army of Northern Virginia led by General Robert Lee, at the battle of Gettysburg. The American Abolitionist Movement gradually built its momentum right after the American Revolution (1765-1783). It became a force to be reckoned and gained widespread popularity especially in the northern states. This put them ideologically in conflict with that of the southern states who viewed slavery as ‘good’. Later this ideological conflict culminated into the American Civil War in which the two factions were Union of the Northern States who were against slavery and the secessionists, Confederation of the American South, who supported slavery.

Edward Everett

The key address in this dedication ceremony was Edward Everett’s, a famed speaker of his time. The speech was around thirteen thousand words long and spanned for nearly two hours. It was delivered without the aid of notes. His speech took its influence from the ancient Greek Oration. In the address, Everett made several war-time and battle references that included the ancient Greeks like the Battle of Marathon. He drew similarities between the ongoing American Civil War and the English Civil War, the War of Roses, and wars in the continental Europe. He laid out a detailed examination of the confederate uprising and gave a thorough explanation of events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg itself.

In view of such a delivery, Lincoln’s epigrammatic address would have hardly attracted anybody’s attention. The opposition even criticized it despite that it soon went down in history to become one of most memorable speeches. The very next day of the ceremony, Everett himself lauded the address by writing a letter to Lincoln, “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

Appeal

The Gettysburg speech is a momentous appeal to the American public for upholding ideals such as nationalism, equal rights, republicanism, democracy and equal rights which are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. The speech is noted for its succinctness, mere 271 words, 10 sentences and delivered in just over two minutes, the address went down in history as one of the most important and persuasive testimonials of the American National Purpose. It was especially dedicated to the soldiers of Union who fell at the battle of Gettysburg around four months prior to the address at the national military cemetery. The North’s victory was one of the most crucial battles in the American Civil War.

Summary

The speech begins with “Four score and seven years ago” considered now as a remarkable phrase, Lincoln travels back in time by reminding people of the enduring national values that the declaration of independence upheld and eloquently summarizes in one sentence “Liberty for All and Equality for All”. Lincoln asserted that The United States is unique that no nation had ever been founded on a commitment to liberty and equality and that civil war is a test to see if a nation based on such ideals could survive. Despite the victory of the Union Army he is not keen on celebrating the momentous win, rather he dedicates the address to the soldiers and eulogizes their valour who laid their lives for the great American ideals, humility and sincerity is reflected in his speech as he proclaims that the lives of the soldiers have ‘consecrated’ the very ground on which the address is delivered with their blood and mere words would be nothing but a feeble attempt to match the war heroes’ sacrifices. Ironically, when Lincoln speculated that the world will hardly remember what he said but remember what the war heroes did for the nation, the world remembers what Lincoln said and forgot the actions of the soldiers. To this Lincoln says that it is up to the living to endorse the memory of the fallen, to remember their noble sacrifices and shoulder the American ideals of equality and liberty like the fallen did when they went to fight for a just cause. Are they, the American public, prepared to do what is necessary to uphold the same founding values? It is essential to remember that the Gettysburg address is a war-time speech and Lincoln’s chief aim is to consolidate the will of his Union contemporaries for the oncoming battles and challenges but at the same time he is also hopeful for the future thus addresses the American civilian to take the mantel of responsibilities as well. He concludes with an exhortation that the sacrifices made must not go in vain and that this country, with guidance of God will experience a renaissance of freedom and that democracy shall not perish from earth.

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