Gettysburg Address Displayed at Smithsonian





In American History, November 19, 1863, might be considered a day of wind and fire.

The place was the Gettysburg battlefield, four and a half months after the bloody and pivotal victory of the Union's Army of the Potomac over Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The event was the dedication of a cemetery for those who had died on those rolling fields. The wind was a two-hour speech by Edward Everett, a renowned orator and former senator from Massachusetts. And the fire was a dedication by President Abraham Lincoln that followed, a speech hardly more than two minutes in length. Like an ember left over from the conflagration of battle, it has warmed the nation's collective memory ever since.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address represents perhaps the perfect combination of eloquence, elegance and economy in our history, shining rhetorical proof of the design axiom, "Less is more." Given the florid oratorical standards of the time, Lincoln's brevity could hardly have been expected. Yet a more reverberant effect cannot be imagined. Harry Rubenstein, chair of the division of politics and reform at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NMAH), sums up the occasion nicely: "Everybody says the same thing about the ceremony: Lincoln gave a great speech and Everett spoke for two hours."

A copy of that speech, in Lincoln's handwriting—the version generally regarded as the definitive text—is now on loan from the White House, displayed in the new Albert H. Small Documents Gallery at the reopened NMAH. It will be on view through January 4.

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