Lincoln delivered the speech on the eve of the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863, while the American Civil War was going on. It was some four and a half months after the Union had defeated the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Around July 1-3, 1863, more than 150,000 American soldiers had fought in the Battle of Gettysburg, which turned out to be a decisive moment of the Civil War. The aftermath of the battle left inerasable imprints on the town, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which had only 2400 residents at that time in somber contrast with the battlefield that outnumbered 7500 rotting dead bodies of the soldier of the Potomac army and that of the Confederacy of Northern Virginia, lying in the humid July air presented a very pathetic picture.
David Wills, a young attorney, taking the initiative rejected this suggestion and instead quickly liaised with the Governor of Pennsylvania, Andrew Gregg Curtin, requesting a National Cemetery to be built jointly funded by the states. The committee at length invited President Lincoln to grace the ceremony with his presence.
President Lincoln was formally notified of his invitation just seventeen days before the occasion, whereas Everett had been asked 40 days earlier. Seventeen days was indeed very short notice for presidential address by the standards in vogue in the nineteenth-century. Moreover, Will’s invitation letter was clearly alluding that the share of the president in the deliberation was going to be a short / ceremonial one.
Abraham Lincoln drafted his address exercising great care. Within just first couple of minutes, after he had ushered into speech, Lincoln was able to quote principles of equality emphasized by the Declaration of Independence and presented his stance on the on-going Civil War as part of the struggle not only to preserve the Union, but to yield to a ‘rebirth of freedom’ that could ensure equality to every citizen in letter and spirit, creating a unified nation in which states’ rights would not sway those of the Union — attainment of the form of government with a powerful center.
Taking with the revolutionary zest: “Four score and seven years ago,” Lincoln makes a reference to the developments of the Civil War and declared the ceremony at Gettysburg an opportunity not only to venerate the grounds, of cemetery, but also endeavor to ensure the ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ on the surface of the earth for good.
No doubt the speech commands a prominent position in country’s history and culture, the exact wording of the speech remains disputed to-date. The five manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address that are known to have existed differ significantly in content, particularly if compared with the versions reproduced in newspaper articles today.
Filed Under: History