Photo of President Abraham Lincoln
150 YEARS AGO TODAY, the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln gave one of the greatest speeches in US history.
An estimated 10,000 people crowded into Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, to witness the dedication of the cemetery. In this rare photograph of the event, with the audience pressed in to hear the speakers, Lincoln (seated and hatless) is barely recognizable. Lincoln’s speech was so short that most of the photographers who had come to record the occasion missed their opportunity. Photograph courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration
On Novemer 19, 1863, President Lincoln dedicated the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and redefine the purpose of the war in his Gettysburg Address.
The featured speaker was Edward Everett, the former governor of Massachusetts and clergyman. Everett was known for his lush, patriotic oratory and Lincoln was only asked to offer a few “appropriate remarks.”
Six thousand people gathered to hear the speeches. Cookies, lemonade, canteens, buttons, dried wildflowers grown on the battlefield, and battle relics were sold at stands on the outskirts.
Everett spoke for one hour and fifty-seven minutes.
Lincoln worked on the wording of his remarks while Everett spoke on.
Lincoln rose to give his remarkable Gettysburg Address.
THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS
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.
Lincoln was wrong – the world did note and will long remember his words.
After Lincoln spoke, he was very disappointed in his performance. He said “That speech went sour.” His friend Ward Hill Lamon heard him say, “It’s a flat failure.”
The reporter for the London Times said, “The ceremony was rendered ludicrous by…the sallies of the poor President Lincoln…Anyone more dull and commonplace it would not be easy to produce.”
Edward Everett felt very differently. “I should be glad,” he wrote to the President, “if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
It isn’t the reporter from the London Times or even Edward Everett we remember, it is Abraham Lincoln and one of the greatest political speeches every written. Certainly he helped give everlasting memory to the fallen he honored that day.