Monday, November 19, 2012

The Gettysburg Address

Today, November 19th, is the date on which Abraham Lincoln (the president, not the vampire hunter) delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history: the one we know today as The Gettysburg Address.

People who study effective public speaking still marvel at the brevity and power of The Gettysburg Address almost 150 years after Mr Lincoln delivered it on the cold, foggy morning of the dedication of the new national cemetery for those killed in the Battle of Gettysburg. The first speaker that day was famed orator Edward Everett, who gave a traditional oration that lasted more than two hours and often left his listeners in tears. He was followed by President Lincoln, who spoke for just over two minutes and was disappointed in his performance. He had finished his presentation and returned to his seat before many in the audience knew he'd even started to speak. The newspaper illustration reproduced above takes a bit of license with the actual recorded reaction.

After the event, Mr Everett told the President, "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." And indeed, Edward Everett's speech is little remembered today except as the prelude to the address in which Abraham Lincoln was so disappointed. If you're so inclined, you can read Mr Everett's address here. And this is the full text of Lincoln's speech ...

"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 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."

I love public speaking and I like to think I'm pretty good at it, but I know when I'm in the presence of greatness. Nobody in this country can give a speech like that any more.

But I wish they could, because we could surely use the inspiration.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

It was a speech for the ages. To the point, sincere, and leaving the audience with a sense of awe. It did not fit in with expectations of extended oratory of its time, but it was singularly effective.

Kristen Drittsekkdatter said...

It's the one speech I had to memorize. I can see why.

Mike said...

His phrase 'unfinished work' is still spot on.