Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Tale of Two Speeches

Edward Everett was a former Harvard professor and served as president of Harvard. He was a former U.S. Representative and a former Senator. He was a former governor of Massachusetts and had served as a minister to Great Britain. He was also a great and well-known orator and was asked to give a dedication speech at the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA on November 11, 1963. This dedication was for the re-burial of soldiers that died during the battle on July 1-3, 1863. The dais was actually set up in the privately owned Evergreen Cemetery adjacent to the cemetery being dedicated. Everett’s speech was 13,607 words long and took two hours to deliver. Long orations were common practice at that time and often occurred at funerals. It was intended to be the Gettysburg Address.

Abraham Lincoln was invited to speak and dedicated the grounds of the national cemetery. Lincoln came in from Washington, DC on a train. He was feeling ill and dizzy as he jotted down thoughts about what he would say at the dedication. Lincoln had three cabinet members riding with him on the train, so he may have gotten a little help from his friends. Lincoln’s speech was around 250 words long and took about two minutes to deliver.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg address reads like poetry. In two minutes’ time, Lincoln reiterated the founding principles of our country, gave a tribute to the soldiers and explained why we were at war and the expected outcome.

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 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.

Lincoln stayed ill for several weeks after the speech – he was thought to have a mild case of smallpox. Everett wrote a book about the ceremony in 1864. His speech, Lincoln’s speech and a map of the battlefield was included in his book. He recognized the power of Lincoln’s words. Everett died in January 1865.

 Lincoln was wrong about one thing – we do remember some of what was said on that day.


  1. That moves me, still to this day. I am very proud of something I did once in college, freshman American History, on the first day, we were told the first person who could memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address would get a certain number of points added to their final grade and everyone else who did it got half that. Most of the class did not even do it all semester. I came back the second day of class and recited it without missing a single word. A few other people tried and got credit but no one else did it perfectly. Sorry to brag but I have so little to brag about. I love poetry and I agree. This is poetry. That was a great blog entry.

    1. Thanks for reading my blog and thanks for making a comment. Lincoln was a special man for a lot of reasons. Learning his speech should still be required in schools. It says a lot about who we are as a people.