- January 23rd, 2011
I'm in love with the Gettysburg Address. It's... amazing.
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.
But why is it amazing? Well, let's start with one simple fact. It's short; And short is sweet. He doesn't give you a chance to be bored.
Then there's the reflection back to "our fathers", done with a touch of archaicness ("four score and seven") and a sneaky reference to the Declaration of Independence -- "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal"-- contrasted with the "now" - this whole idea makes it seem like they are continuing on their fathers' work - it gives it continuity. Contrast for effect is used throughout this piece; note the phrase "living and dead", which is added in parenthesis.
Then it's littered with simple yet powerful judgements - "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this", for example. He is telling you what to do, telling that the dead men were brave, telling you to fight on. No pussyfooting around the issues for Mr. Lincoln!
Note the sneaky inclusion of "God". In a religious society, that strengthens a speech significantly.
Lincoln's use of repetition excites me - for instance, he repeats "dedicate", "consecrate" and "hallow" a lot. Because of the nature of these self-aggrandising words, it's powerful. The most noticeable repetition he uses, of course, is "government of the people, by the people, for the people" - repetitive both in terms of the word "people" and the structure "preposition the people".
The day after this speech was made, it went viral; admittedly, not like a good YouTube video goes viral today but viral nonetheless, getting itself printed in all the Union's newspapers. I think that shows its power, as does the fact that a British student in 2011 can still love it - and ultimately, I think we have to conclude that when Lincoln said, "the world will little, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here" he was wholly wrong. I mean, the American Civil War's my speciality, and even I have absolutely no idea what happened at the Battle of Gettysburg.