"Gettysburg Address" is an essay that was presented as a speech by its
author, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the sixteenth President of the United
States. Lincoln delivered the speech on Thursday, November 19, 1863, as
the main address at the dedication of Soldiers' National Cemetery in south-central
Pennsylvania near the town of Gettysburg. Soldiers' National Cemetery,
also known as Gettysburg National Cemetery, is on the battlefield where
the Union Army defeated the Confederate Army on July 1-3, 1863.
July 1-3, 1863, the Union Army of the Potomac (numbering between 85,000
and 90,000 men) defeated the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia (numbering
about 75,000 men) in the Battle of Gettysburg. Historians generally regard
the Union victory as the turning point of the American Civil War, giving
the Northern forces the momentum that led ultimately to the Confederate
surrender at Appomattox Court House, Va., on April 9, 1865.
battle left more than 51,000 soldiers dead, wounded, or missing.
the hasty burial of the dead, rain and the erosion exposed limbs and bodies
and created a stench. Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin then approved
the acquisition of seventeen acres of land on the battlefield for the establishment
of a cemetery to give the Union soldiers a proper burial. More than 3,500
of the deadincluding the bodies of 979 unidentified soldierswere transferred
to the cemetery between 1863 and 1864.
of the Gettysburg Address
Copyright Photo by Michael J. Cummings,
Cummings Study Guides
Description: Statue of soldier on
the battlefield site at Gettysburg
. . . ago: Eighty-seven years ago, or 1776, the year when the American
colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. Four score
and seven (rather than eighty-seven years) has a poetic, biblical,
and dignified ring.
. . . equal: Lincoln is reminding his listeners that the U.S. Constitution
guarantees freedom and equality for all. It is time, he is saying, that
African-Americans receive their freedom and their rights under the Constitution.
. . . live: An effective contrast: Men died so that others may live.
Consecrate; make holy; dedicate.
world . . . here: The opposite of course is true. The nation well remembers
"what we say here"; the "Gettysburg Address" is probably the most famous
and most quoted speech in the history of the American presidency.
. . . unfinished work: Lincoln begins his call to action, attempting
to rally Americans to finish the task of defeating the Confederacy.
these . . . freedom: (1) Another effective contrast: Men died so that
others, the slaves, will have a new life as free men.
Union should dedicate itself to the task of finishing the work of the men
who died at Gettysburg to end slavery and preserve America as one nation
under God with a government of, by, and for the people.
"Gettysburg Address" is a masterpiece of elegant simplicity. The essay/speech
is straightforward and easy to understand. Not a single word is wasted.
Lincoln frequently uses
anaphora, the repetition of a word or words at the beginning of successive
phrases or clauses. This figure of speech helps to balance the structure
of the sentences while imparting force and emphasis. Examples of anaphora
in the address are the following:
conceived and so dedicated
can not dedicate, we can not
consecrate, we can not hallow
is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here. . . . It
is rather for us to be here dedicated
from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which
they gave the last full measure of devotionthatwe
here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vainthat
this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedomand that
government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish
from the earth
Use of We
wisely used the first-person pronouns we, our, and us
to include his listeners (and later his readers) as fellow Americans who
shared his sentiments. Such an approach aimed to hearten supporters of
his cause while telegraphing a message to the Confederacy and foreign powers
that the North was united in its resolve. This approach also enabled Lincoln
to avoid sounding preachy.
his concluding sentence, Lincoln may have been paraphrasing a speech delivered
by the Rev. Theodore Parker (1810-1860), a Unitarian minister and abolitionist,
at an antislavery convention in Boston on May 29, 1850. Following is an
excerpt from Parker's speech that highlights the words similar to Lincoln's.
There is what I
call the American idea. I so name it, because it seems to me to lie at
the basis of all our truly original, distinctive, and American institutions.
It is itself a complex idea, composed of three subordinate and more simple
ideas, namely: The idea that all men have unalienable rights; that in respect
thereof, all men are created equal; and that government is to be established
and sustained for the purpose of giving every man an opportunity for the
enjoyment and development of all these unalienable rights. This idea demands,
as the proximate organization thereof, a democracy, that is, a government
of all the people, by all the people, for all the people; of course,
a government after the principles of eternal justice, the unchanging law
of God; for shortness' sake, I will call it the idea of Freedom.
Questions and Writing Topics
Who are the "fathers" referred
to in the first sentence of Lincoln's speech?
Write an essay explaining the
steps taken to establish Soldiers' National Cemetery.
Early in 1863, Lincoln signed
an important document that enabled the Union to recruit African-Americans
as soldiers. What was the document?
What happened to the bodies
of the Confederates buried at Gettysburg? Check a research source to find