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Essay Paper on the Gettysburg Address

The Gettysburg Address is one of the speeches that stand out in US history. It was delivered by Abraham Limcoln, the 16-th President of the USA, on November 19, 1963 at the ceremony of the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery near the town of Gettysburg, state Pennsylvania. The Civil War was raging across the country, and its toll on the nation was unprecedented in American history. The Battle of Gettysburg, which started July 1, 1863 and was going for 3 days claimed 51,000 people dead, wounded or missing, with heavy losses for both the Confederate and the Union Armies. Later the battle went down into US history as a turning point of the Civil War.

Yet in 1863 the sentiments of the people were against the war and Lincoln’s policy of keeping the war going was far from popular. Therefore, Lincoln had to inspire the nation to continue the war as the only means of preserving the unity of the country and consolidating the people as the new type of nation based not on the ethnic principle but implementing the principles “all men are created equal,” and “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” He did it brilliantly in his 271-word (according to the most popular version) address that lasted just over 2 minutes and is seen as something that remade American history proclaiming the “new birth of freedom”.

Lincoln’s was invited to participate in the cemetery dedication 17 days before the event and had to add “a few appropriate remarks” after the speech made by Edward Everett, the Secretary of State and Governor of Massachusetts, who was known as one of the best orators of his time. Lincoln’s very short address delivered immediately after Edward Everett’s 2-hour ornate speech seemed almost shockingly brief to the audience though Everett himself acknowledged that Lincoln had accomplished more with such economy than what he had achieved in two hours. It was only later that the address was regarded as the finest example of political philosophy and a literary masterpiece.

Explaining why the war was worth fighting Lincoln referred to the Declaration of Independence and its statement of “all men are created equal” as the cornerstone for developing the nation rather than quoting US Constitution, which implicitly suggests that he saw the latter as the document where certain provisions could be construed as justifying slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery in 1865 can be seen as a logical consequence of Lincoln’s belief that slavery and freedom are incompatible. The address also makes ample use of quotations from the Bible but never mentions words like “abolitionism” or “slavery”, which helps it to be more universal and live on.

On September 11, 2002, at a memorial service a year after the heinous attack on the WTC, New York Governor George Pataki chose to read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address instead of delivering his own speech, which is yet another evidence of its vital significance today, seven score and seven years after.

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