It was three days in July 1863 that brought the small town of Gettysburg to the forefront of our nation. However, it was in November 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln would in just a few short minutes deliver a speech that still today provides insight and inspiration for the world.
After months of work to clean up the devastation that remained after the battle, President Lincoln was asked by David Wills to say “a few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg; Lincoln agreed.
The President arrived on November 18 at the train station and was escorted to David Wills’ home on what is now the Lincoln Square. In the morning, he joined a procession to the cemetery. President Lincoln followed the keynote speaker, Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours.
Wearing his black suit, tall silk hat and white gloves, Lincoln delivered his address. In just 272 words, he described his vision for “a new birth of freedom” for America. In his eloquent style, our 16th president reminded those present, and those of us today, of the hard work of our forefathers; and he challenged all Americans to live that dream.
At the time, reaction to the address was mixed. However, Everett wrote Lincoln the following day, “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.”
Today, the Gettysburg Address is considered one of the greatest speeches of all time. President Lincoln was wrong when he said, “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here…” We do, remember and will continue to long after today.
The Gettysburg Address
“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 now on a great battlefield 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 cannot dedicate… we cannot consecrate… we cannot 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.”