It’s 272 words long and lasted about 2 minutes. It was delivered 150 years ago today at the height of the Civil War to consecrate a battlefield cemetery in Pennsylvania where over 50,000 slain soldiers from both sides were buried. It followed a speech given by former Congressman Edward Everett which ran over two hours, more typical of the oratorical style of the day. There are five copies known to have been written by Lincoln himself including the one used during his speech. They were given to his personal secretaries, friends and charitable organizations. One is on display at the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois. Most people educated in the U.S. can quote the famous opening lines, and it is recognized as one of the most eloquent and powerful pieces of oratory in Western culture. The word “slavery” does not appear even once in the speech. There is much resource information available on the web. Here is an op-ed piece in today’s Chicago Trib offering more on the speech.
And, because I believe it bears reading today, here is the speech itself:
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 this 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.