Lincoln’s Sound Bite: Have Faith in Democracy

tags: Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address



Allen C. Guelzo, professor of the Civil War era at Gettysburg College, is the author, most recently, of Gettysburg: The Last Invasion.

The surprisingly short story of the Gettysburg Address is that it was a surprisingly short speech — 270 words or so — delivered by Abraham Lincoln as part of the dedication ceremonies for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, on Nov. 19, 1863, four and a half months after the climactic battle of the American Civil War.

But the long story is that no single American utterance has had the staying power, or commanded the respect and reverence, accorded the Gettysburg Address. It has been engraved (on the south wall of the Lincoln Memorial), translated (in a book devoted to nothing but translations of the address), and analyzed in at least nine book-length critical studies over the last century.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put down his morning paper’s report of the address and wrote to his publisher that “Lincoln’s brief speech at Gettysburg … seems to me admirable.” Longfellow’s friend Charles Sumner wrote, “Since Simonides wrote the epitaph for those who died at Thermopylae, nothing equal to them has ever been breathed over the fallen dead.” He added: “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech.”...



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