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On This Day in History: President Lincoln Delivered the Gettysburg Address

crowd waving american flags

Today in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave his historic Gettysburg Address.

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  President Lincoln was the second speaker at the event, following famed orator Edward Everett.  While Everett spoke to the crowd for two hours, Lincoln’s iconic speech was just under two minutes long.

The day after the dedication, Everett wrote to the President praising his speech,

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery.  I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Everett wasn’t the only one to commend the speech.  In Lincoln’s eulogy following his assassination, Senator Charles Summer called the Gettysburg Address a “monumental act,” and went on to declare that “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it.  The battle itself was less important than the speech.”

In the brief soliloquy, he invoked the principles of human equality contained in the Declaration of Independence and connected the sacrifices of the Civil War with the desire for “a new birth of freedom,” as well as the all-important preservation of the Union created in 1776 and its ideal of self-government.

Though long-running popular legend holds that he wrote the speech on the train while traveling to Pennsylvania, he probably wrote about half of it before leaving the White House on November 18, and completed writing and revising it that night, after talking with Secretary of State William H. Seward, who had accompanied him to Gettysburg.

Even today, the Gettysburg Address remains one of the most famous and widely recognized speeches in American history.  As a nation, we continue to celebrate and live out the legacy that Lincoln created on this day in 1863.

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