Wednesday, November 19, 2008
November 19, 1863 - Lincoln at Gettysburg
Today’s media world is one defined by six-second sound bytes. Political orators great, and not so great, give speeches by the dozen on any number of subjects to cheering crowds of the assembled masses. What they say is boiled down to what fits in the news segment between the train wreck and the office shootout as reported by the 24-hour cable channel.
The world notes little and remembers less of what is said by national leaders.
On this day, 145 years ago, two speeches were given at the dedicatory ceremony of Gettysburg National Cemetery. One was given by a man widely renowned as the greatest orator of the time. He was none other than Edward Everett, a former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, Governor of Massachusetts, president of Harvard University, and Vice Presidential candidate. Almost as an afterthought, the President of the United States was also invited to give “dedicatory remarks.”
On the dedicatory day, November 19, Everett’s speech contained 13,607 words and lasted over two hours. After Everett’s oration, and a hymn, Abraham Lincoln rose and gave the following 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.Some times less really is more. This speech was given long before the era of paid speechwriters and TelePrompTers. Lincoln wrote it believing (most likely) that it would be forgotten among all the other speeches he gave. Its doubtful he had much time to give serious thought to his “dedicatory remarks”. His nation was at war with herself. The Gettysburg Address was Lincoln at his oratory best – because what he said was what he truly believed. No coaching. No polling. No focus groups.
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 battle-field 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 can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not 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.
It is one speech that I wish was available on video. The closest I can get you is Walt Disney’s “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln”. Enjoy. (The actual address comes at about 37 seconds into the video.
Here endeth the lesson.