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11 November 2021

The Gettysburg Address

President Abraham Lincoln


There are five known copies of this immortal and eloquent speech. It was hand-written by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 for the purpose of dedicating a Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Each version of the Gettysburg Address differs slightly from the other. Each version is named for the person upon whom Lincoln bestowed a copy of this speech that he literally deemed of little note and not worthy of much remembrance.

The Gettysburg Address became, in fact, and, in perpetuity, one of the most famous and cherished speeches in the history of America. The souls of the Union soldiers who sacrificed their lives for liberty would soon be joined by the hallowed soul of an assassinated President who sacrificed his life to his nation.


Two copies of this speech were composed prior to its delivery at the battlefield. The other three copies were produced several months after this commemorative event which occurred on the afternoon of 19 November 1863.  Four and a half months had elapsed since the victory of the Union forces over those of the Confederacy at that little-known place called Gettysburg.


Originally called Soldiers’ National Cemetery, this burial site served to consecrate land, and to render hommage to the men who died there in savage battle, from 1-3 July 1863. In many ways, this consecrated ground in Pennsylvania foreshadows the Allied cemetery at Normandy in France.  Each burial ground for a single battle became emblematic of an entire war for liberty, not eclipsing it, but ennobling it.

This speech was not hastily dashed off on a train en route to the battlefield site, nor was it the primary address of the ceremony. Lincoln painstakingly crafted this manuscript of 271 words, creating at least two drafts. His literary skills were matched only by the profound level of his thought and feeling. He was an attorney of the old school, the very old school, in his superb powers of written precision, rhetoric, terse forcefulness and tender sentiment.


The version presented here is the Hay Copy. It is considered the second draft of this oratory masterpiece, as it was given by President Lincoln to John Hay, his assistant in the White House. Mr. Hay accompanied his Commander in Chief on that historic day to Gettysburg. He wrote of this momentous address in his diary:


“. . . The President, in a fine, free way, with more grace than is his wont, said his half dozen words of consecration.”

Gettysburg Address
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THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon 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 here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, 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 can never forget what they did here.


It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. 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 shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.