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The Gettysburg Address


Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Soldiers’ National Cemetery was dedicated in November 1863; Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was part of the dedication ceremonies. The cemetery is a resting place for the Union dead at Gettysburg, and it was the first step toward helping the United States heal from the Battle of Gettysburg. For the main address at the dedication ceremonies of Soldiers’ National Cemetery, prominent Gettysburg attorney David Wills chose statesman Edward Everett of Massachusetts. Wills also invited President Abraham Lincoln to Gettysburg to add “a few appropriate remarks.” 

Edward Everett and Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg

Everett and Lincoln knew each other quite well. Everett ran for vice president of the United States against Lincoln. When the Civil War began, however, Everett offered his support for Lincoln and the Union. One year after the dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery, in 1864, Everett campaigned for Lincoln, the presidential candidate he once opposed.

At the dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Everett’s speech lasted approximately two hours. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, on the other hand, lasted just a few minutes. “I should be glad…that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes,” Everett said.

Inspiration for Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Lincoln looked to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to draft the Gettysburg Address — and further expanded upon the ideas contained in both documents. Despite decades of division and secession of the Southern states, Lincoln declared, Americans were one people, one country. The Civil War tested this ideal. Abraham Lincoln believed that a loss by the United States in the Civil War would mean a loss of the American experiment in democracy.

In just 272 words, Abraham Lincoln defined for the North, and for all Americans, the meaning, value and price of freedom. 

Manuscript Copies of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
Most of us were probably required to memorize all or parts of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in our American history class during our school years. How much do you remember and did you know that there are five copies of the Gettysburg Address in existence?