In a speech of just over 250 words, and only two minutes long, President Abraham Lincoln provided a “few appropriate remarks” summarizing the national situation and reminding those in attendance that the work started must be completed. Union forces must continue to fight in order to preserve the nation.
While Lincoln was in Gettysburg, he stayed at the David Wills House, located in downtown Gettysburg at Lincoln Square. The house is operated by the National Park Service and admission is free. It is recommended to check the website before visiting as hours do change throughout the year. Here, you can visit the room where President Lincoln put the final touches on what might be his most famous speech.
The text below is quoted from the Bliss Copy of the address as provided by the National Park Service. To learn about the five differing versions of the Gettysburg Address please visit Abraham Lincoln Online.
Delivered at Gettysburg, PA
Nov. 19th 1863
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 that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot 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.
Lincoln’s speech, which is often quoted, has been analyzed and interpreted since it was given. There are several worthwhile books on the subject of the address and the creation of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Below are several I recommend.
The Emerging Civil War Series is highly respected for the continual high level of scholarship these books include. Dr. Brad Gottfried is a respected academic who has served as a professor, college president, and author. His book Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg is a perfect introduction to the topic. At less than 200 pages and around $15 this is an amazing value for anybody interested in the Civil War, Gettysburg in particular, or Abraham Lincoln.
Perhaps the standard work on the topic is that of Gary Wills and his masterful Lincoln at Gettysburg.
By examining both the address and Lincoln in their historical moment and cultural frame, Wills breathes new life into words we thought we knew, and reveals much about a president so mythologized but often misunderstood. Wills shows how Lincoln came to change the world and to effect an intellectual revolution, how his words had to and did complete the work of the guns, and how Lincoln wove a spell that has not yet been broken.
For those a bit more advanced in your studies, I recommend seeking out The Gettysburg Gospel by Gabor Boritt.
The words Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg comprise perhaps the most famous speech in history. Many books have been written about the Gettysburg Address and yet, as Lincoln scholar Gabor Boritt shows, there is much that we don’t know about the speech. In The Gettysburg Gospel he tears away a century of myths, lies, and legends to give us a clear understanding of the greatest American’s greatest speech.
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