The Gettysburg Address

Topics: Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, Battle of Gettysburg Pages: 9 (3534 words) Published: October 16, 2013
The Gettysburg Address: An Analysis
On 19 November, we commemorate the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863. In one of the first posts on this blog, I compared Lincoln’s two-minute address with the two-hour oration by Edward Everett on the same occasion. Today the former is universally regarded as one of the most famous speeches in American history; the latter is largely forgotten. Indeed, Everett himself recognized the genius of Lincoln’s speech in a note that he sent to the President shortly after the event: “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 a speech that was comprised of only 10 sentences and 272 words, Lincoln was able to strike a chord that would resonate not only with his audience, but one that would resonate through time. Why is this short speech so memorable? First, it is important to remember the context. America was in the midst of a bloody civil war. Union troops had only four months earlier defeated Confederate troops at the Battle of Gettysburg which is widely recognized as the turning point in the war. The stated purpose of Lincoln’s speech was to dedicate a plot of land that would become Soldier’s National Cemetery to honour the fallen. However, the Civil War still raged and Lincoln realized that he also had to inspire the people to continue the fight. Below is the text of the Gettysburg Address, interspersed with my thoughts on what made it so memorable. 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. “Four score and seven” is much more poetic, much more elegant, much more noble than “Eighty-seven”. This is fitting, because 87 years earlier, the United States had won its freedom from Britain and thus embarked on the “Great Experiment”. Lincoln reminds the audience of the basis on which the country was founded: liberty and equality. This is a perfect set up to the next sentence. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. Here, Lincoln signals the challenge. The principles on which the nation was founded are under attack. He extends the significance of the fight beyond the borders of the United States. It is not just a question of whether America could survive, but rather question of whether any nation founded on the same principles could survive. Thus does the war — and the importance of winning it — take on an even greater significance. We are met 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. Lincoln turns to recognize those who have fallen for their country. He uses contrast effectively. By stating “those who here gave their lives that this nation might live” Lincoln makes what is perhaps the ultimate contrast: life vs death. Contrast is compelling. As Nancy Duarte says in her book, Resonate, “People are naturally attracted to opposites, so presentations should draw from this attraction to create interest. Communicating an idea juxtaposed with its polar opposite creates energy. Moving back and forth between the contradictory poles encourages full engagement from the audience.” He uses consonance — the repetition of the same consonant in short succession — through words with the letter “f”: battlefield; field; final; for; fitting. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. Notice the use of a “triple”: “can not dedicate … can not consecrate … can not hallow”. Triples are a powerful public speaking technique that can add power to your words and make them memorable. For an excellent overview of triples and the...
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