Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

One hundred and fifty years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered a remarkably brief speech of just 269 words as part of the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA, just over four months after the decisive Battle of Gettysburg.

We call that battle “decisive,” and in the larger picture it was, but at this time the war was hardly over. Though later called the “turning point” of the war, that effort could have been forgotten were there not other monumental victories and, for that matter, Lincoln’s own re-election in 1864. For this reason, he was conscious of the need to remind those in attendance of the purpose, significance, and on-going import of the sacrifices made at Gettysburg and that would be required in the months to come.

Lincoln, we may have forgotten, was not the only one on the speaking docket. Indeed, he was not the featured speaker. That honor fell to the Edward Everett, who offered the Gettysburg Oration, a monumental speech of more than 13,000 words that was intended to memorialize the battle and its soldiers. Then Lincoln stood to offer what were called “dedicatory remarks.” After the event, Everett, acknowledged as one of the finest speakers of the age, was said to have remarked to the president, “If I could have said in my two hours what you said in two minutes, I would be a happy man.”

In what many have called the most important speech in American politics, Lincoln summons his hearers back to the writing of the Declaration of Independence “four score and seven years ago.” He then casts the present struggle as a test to that achievement and calls for a new birth of freedom, one that includes all people.

One hundred and fifty years later, it is not enough, I think, simply to remember that day, or even the significance of the speech. Rather, I think we are called to remember that the proposition put forward by the signers of the Declaration – “that all men are created equal” – and defended at Gettysburg and the countless other battles of the Civil War, is an ongoing experiment, more fragile, I suspect, to internal than even external threats. For when we forget the gift from God that democratic liberty is, and the cost of preserving and extending that freedom, then is democracy and equality most keenly at risk.

To mark the day, I’ve placed below the text of the “Bliss copy” of the address – one of five copies with slight variations – and beneath that a five-minute clip from Ken Burns Civil War documentary focused on the 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.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Note: 1) If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to click here to watch the video.
2) You can find more information and videos about Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address, at Abraham Lincoln Online and


Post image: The Lincoln Gettysburg Address Memorial, from Draw the Sword: The Gettyburg Monument Project.