Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. We all know this concise but poignant speech was given by President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg.
It was only four months after the fierce and bloody fighting there. With a casualty rate topping 50,000 and more than 10,000 of that number dead, the work of burying those slain, fell to the people of the area. The citizens soon realized a proper cemetery for the fallen Union soldiers was needed and they petitioned the governor for help.
The result was the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and it’s dedication ceremony was slated for November 19, 1863.
Famous Massachusetts politician and speaker Edward Everett was asked to give a speech and President Lincoln was asked to give “a few appropriate remarks.” The story is often told that Everett gave a long-winded two hour speech regarding the war and the events that led up to it before the president spoke. Lincoln in only 272 words and in just under two minutes honored the sacrifice of those soldiers who perished and pressed forward the Union cause.
Newspaper reviews on the president’s remarks were mixed. The Springfield Republican (MA) paper hailed the president remarks “deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma”. Yet a regional Pennsylvania paper the Patriot & Union called his speech “silly”. Coincidentally last week the paper now known as The Patriot News retracted their statement on the President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address saying they “regret the error”.
There are five copies of the Gettysburg Address in existence. Each one has a slight variation in verbiage. Each is handwritten by Lincoln and named for the person the copy was given to.
• The president gave a copy believed to be the speech’s first draft to John G. Nicolay, his personal secretary
• John Hay, a White House assistant, received the second draft of the speech.
• The talkative Edward Everett, the other speaker on that November day asked for a copy to benefit Union soldiers and Lincoln obliged.
• Lincoln wrote another copy for George Bancroft to use for another charitable opportunity raising money for soldiers. Unfortunately the president wrote on both sides of the paper and this edition of the speech couldn’t be used.
• Alexander Bliss was Bancroft’s stepson and asked President Lincoln for another copy of the speech which Lincoln produced. This is the only signed and dated copy of the address and the one reprinted most often through history.
150 years later, in honor and remembrance, let’s read President Lincoln’s “few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
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 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.
November 19, 1863