Abraham lincoln gettysburg address essay

We want to understand what he accomplished and how he did it, and maybe especially how he did what he did in such brief compass. The Gettysburg Address contains three paragraphs, ten sentences, and words word counts vary slightly depending on which version of the text is used, and whether certain words like "four score," "can not," and "battle-field" are formatted as one or two words.


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Astonishingly, since many words are used more than once, the speech is comprised of only distinct words. Lincoln would have excelled at writing sonnets or maybe even sound bites and tweets. To truly understand how a statement so brief could run so deep and last so long, we must carefully consider its substance and structure. To do so is to appreciate all the more Lincoln's extraordinary accomplishment. Before turning to the text itself, it might help to say just a bit about the occasion for the speech.

The three-day battle of Gettysburg took place at the beginning of July It was a Union victory with the Confederates fleeing the field on July 4th , and in retrospect we know that it was a turning point of the war, though that was not so evident at the time. The casualties were like those of so many Civil War battles: staggering belief. Those three days left behind 51, American dead, wounded, or missing. To gain a sense of the scale of the carnage, we might contrast it with numbers we are more familiar with: During our year involvement in Vietnam, 58, Americans died.

Remember that the population in was one-tenth of what it is now. If one were to translate the death toll from the Civil War into today's population figures, it would not be in the thousands, or the tens of thousands, or the hundreds of thousands. It would be 7.

We are familiar today with the tendency of democratic peoples to tire of war, to quail before its terrible blood price. But the problem was not limited to the passivity or hopelessness of grief. There was active resistance to the continuance of the war. In the immediate wake of the victory at Gettysburg, riots over the draft broke out in New York City. Over four days in the middle of that July, civilians were killed, including 11 black citizens who were lynched by angry mobs; hundreds of blacks fled the city; upwards of 2, people were injured; and 50 buildings burned to the ground.

Some said the New York draft riots turned the Union victory into a Confederate one. Many college students today do not pick up on this fact. Not knowing much history, but aware that Lincoln is beloved for his kindliness and his summons "to bind up the nation's wounds," they tend to read Lincoln's Second Inaugural back into the Gettysburg Address. They assume that he is commemorating all the fallen and they like him for his supposed inclusiveness, especially in contrast to the bombast and arrogance of Pericles.

Perhaps their misreading might be excused, since a most unusual war speech it is. Lincoln never mentions the enemy, or rather he mentions them only by implication. When he speaks of "those who here gave their lives that that nation might live," his audience then would have been acutely aware that there were others who gave their lives that that nation might die, that it might no longer be the United States.

The cemetery that was dedicated at Gettysburg was exclusively a Union cemetery. In fact, in the weeks before the dedication, the townspeople had witnessed the re-interment process, as thousands of the battle dead were exhumed from the shallow graves in which they had hastily been placed by those same local citizens back in the sweltering days of July. As they were uncovered, Union bodies were painstakingly identified and separated from Confederate bodies.

While the rebels were simply reburied, coffinless, deeper in the ground where they were found to be reclaimed later by their home states , the loyal dead were removed, further sorted into their military units, and placed in coffins and tidy lines, awaiting honorable burial in the new cemetery. Lincoln's abstraction from the enemy highlights the very abstract character of the entire speech.

The Legacy Of The Gettysburg Address

No specifics are given. There isn't a proper noun to be found, with the single exception of God. Thus, there is no mention of Gettysburg, just "a great battle-field. And although the opening clause, "four score and seven years ago," does refer to a specific date, Lincoln has obscured it by giving the lapse of time in Biblical language and then by requiring the listener to subtract 87 from in order to arrive at the date of The tremendous abstraction or generality of the speech is part of what explains its ability to speak to people in different eras and cultures who have no connection to the events at Gettysburg, and yet feel, as Lincoln might say, that they are "blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh" of those spoken of there, or more accurately of those spoken to there.

The addressees of the speech are identified simply as "we," "the living. He summons the living to "the unfinished work" and swears them to "the great task remaining. The abstraction of the Gettysburg Address is in marked contrast to the impromptu speech that Lincoln gave on July 7th, right after the victory, when residents of the District of Columbia assembled outside the White House to serenade him.

This was before the era of the Secret Service and massive barricades around the White House, when interaction between presidents and ordinary citizens was much more intimate. After thanking the visitors, he says:. How long ago is it? After mentioning by name Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, Lincoln goes on to describe the significance of the victory:. Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme, and the occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the occasion. The first paragraph of the Gettysburg Address consists of only one sentence, but it's a doozy.

It describes the past, the nation's beginnings. What Lincoln called "the birthday of the United States of America" in the serenade speech has been transformed into a sophisticated, poetic metaphor that refers to three distinct moments: conception, birth, and baptism. The past that Lincoln refers to is a past that stretches back before living memory. Lincoln's decision to formulate the date in this way accentuates the fact that the founding is now beyond anyone's direct experience.

The Lyceum Address, delivered a quarter-century earlier by a young Lincoln, was also about the founding.

Abraham Lincoln And The Gettysburg Address Essay

There, Lincoln reflected on the difficulties the nation would face once those who had personally participated in the revolution were gone. In keeping with this insight into impermanence, Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address does not try to conjure up the drama of the revolution. Instead, he substitutes more peaceful, natural imagery: What happened in was that "our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation. While Lincoln is the greatest of constitutionalists, he considers the Declaration our foundational text.

Note that although Lincoln acknowledges the land "this continent" , he does not suggest that the nation emerges from out of the soil. Our founding is not like the old myths of autochthony where the people were said to spring forth from the earth, like the Spartoi of Thebes sown from the dragon's teeth.

Analysis Of The Gettysburg Address Essay Example For Students - words | Artscolumbia

Our nation is "on" the continent, not "from" or "out of" it. Ours is a uniquely ideational founding, based on declaratory words, which Lincoln in his fragment on "The Constitution and the Union" calls " the word, ' fitly spoken. A number of commentators have argued that Lincoln's language suggests that we have the founders for our fathers and the continent for our mother; they regard "brought forth on" as equivalent to begat or sired.

But "to bring forth" is another common Biblical phrase that, from Genesis forward, refers to the female role of parturition, or in the case of plants, to the visible appearance of fruit. There are even verses that apply the obstetrical metaphor politically, describing the national destiny of Israel, as in Micah "Be in pain, and labour to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail Lincoln's next two clauses mention two key ideas: liberty and equality, each of which is linked to the dominant metaphor of birth.

Casting back before the advent moment in to the moment of conception, Lincoln says the nation was "conceived in Liberty. How literally should this language of sexual congress be taken? Of course, "to conceive" can denote either a physical or a mental phenomenon: becoming pregnant or taking a notion into the mind. Before the nation could be brought forth into practical realization, it had to be thought of or imagined. Whence arose the concept? According to Lincoln, it originated "in Liberty. The result is that "Liberty" and "God" are, in effect, the only capitalized words, since none of the sentence-starting words would normally be capitalized.

Why does Lincoln incarnate liberty in this way and what does it mean to be "conceived in Liberty"? Whenever the interpretation of Lincoln is at issue, the Bible is a good starting place. Psalms speaks of being conceived in sin: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. In Luke , the angel tells Mary, "And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son," and in Matthew , the angel assures Joseph that "that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

According to Lincoln's redaction, the new nation was conceived not in sin or sorrow but in liberty, although given the use that humans make of their liberty, there might not be much difference between the terms.

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address from the movie 'Saving Lincoln'

Beneath the beautiful thought that the nation was conceived in the pure womb of liberty there lurks the afterthought evoked by the distant resonance of Psalm 51's conceived in sin. That psalm, known as the Miserere, is the most famous of the seven penitential psalms. In it, a contrite King David prays for a clean heart and a renewed spirit after his unjust taking of Bathsheba, the wife of the humble Uriah.

The list of 41 generations the "begats" is interrupted only twice, once to interject that "David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias" and then to mention that 14 generations later the Israelites were "carried away to Babylon.

Rhetorical Analysis Of Abraham Lincoln 's Gettysburg Address

William Faulkner, in Absalom, Absalom! In his very frank letter to his dearest friend, Joshua Speed, Lincoln uses a variant of "conceived in sin" when he declares that the Kansas-Nebraska Act "was conceived in violence, passed in violence, is maintained in violence, and is being executed in violence. John Channing Briggs, in his wonderful book, Lincoln's Speeches Reconsidered , stresses the obscurity of Lincoln's phrasing: "Certainly, if one presses the metaphor to its sensible limit, the nation had parentage; but the manner and precise timing of its conception Leon Kass, in his admirable speech, " The Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's Reinterpretation of the American Founding ," tries once again to plumb the mysteries of the nation's generation.

He develops three scenarios. Perhaps Lincoln means to suggest that, just as a child might be conceived in love, the nation was conceived in liberty. Liberty, or maybe love of liberty, was the seminal passion that eventually produced the nation. Or perhaps "conceived in Liberty" indicates that the idea of a new nation was freely formed and chosen. Simpson discusses how he came to be involved in Gettysburg Replies and his thoughts on the project here:. In Carla Knorowski, the CEO of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, invited a number of people, including me, to contribute essays inspired in some way by the Gettysburg Address as a way to commemorate the th anniversary of its delivery on November 10, There was only one rule: whatever we wrote would have to be words in length—the length of the address itself—no more and no less.

Contributors submitted a printed version as well as a handwritten version, which would be put on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. Out of the rather large number of contributions, some were selected for inclusion in a volume entitled Gettysburg Replies, and I was fortunate enough to be included. How challenging was it to write an essay of just words. Without giving too much away, as ideally people should purchase the book to read the essays, can you say what your essay is about? For me the economy of language was simply one of the challenges presented by this project.

One tinkered with various drafts to get just the right turn of phrase in the required number of words. More daunting was thinking about what to write.