The featured speaker of the day was Edward Everett, a renowned speaker at that
time. He had been Governor of Massachusetts, Ambassador to Great Britain, and
President of Harvard. He was given two months to prepare what was to
be the keynote speech of the day.
The decision to even invite Lincoln was made only after some controversy. As
one of the Pennsylvania commissioners later wrote,
"The question was raised as to his ability
to speak on such a solemn
occasion; the invitation was not settled upon until about two weeks before the
exercises were held."
At that time Lincoln was unpopular in many circles. Many thought that he had no
chance of being re-elected. In fact, Thaddeus Stevens, Republican floor leader
in the House stated,
"The Dead going to bury the dead."
Everett was 45 minutes late when he arrived. When he was introduced, he bowed
low to Lincoln and the other dignitaries. He informed the 15,000
people in attendance about how the Greeks cared for their dead who fell in
battle; talked of how the war had begun; of various decisive details of the
three day battle so recently fought; denounced the principle of state
sovereignty; compared American and European history and finished saying,
"The whole earth is the sepulcher of illustrious men."
He had talked for
just under two hours. It was the effort of his
life and he had put into it all that he had learned of public speaking in his
entire career. When Lincoln rose to speak, he put on his
eyeglasses, rose, and holding the two sheets upon which he had written,
re-written, crossed out, and corrected repeatedly, he delivered his address in
his high-pitched and clear
carrying voice. A photographer bustled
with his equipment, but before he could get his head under the cloth hood,
Lincoln had said,
"...by the people and for the people."
for what would have been a truly historic photograph was
The nine sentences of the Address were spoken in only five minutes, and the
applause was merely formal -- a tribute to the occasion, to Lincoln's high
office, by people who had already been sitting for three hours.
That evening, Lincoln took his train back to Washington. He felt that he had
failed, that all he had given were ordinary garden-variety dedicatory comments.
He was reported to have said,
"That speech was a flat failure, and the people were disappointed."
Most of the reaction of the newspapers of the day were far less charitable. The
Patriot and Union of nearby Harrisburg had its say,
"The President acted without sense and without
constraint in a
panorama that was gotten up more for the benefit of his party than for the
honor of the deed....We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the
credit of the nation
we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall
be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of."
The Chicago Times put it this way,
"The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat
and dish-watery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to
intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States."
Even the correspondent of the London Times blasted the speech,
"Anything more dull and commonplace it would not be easy
There were a few, however, who recognized the brilliance of what they had
heard. A reporter for the Chicago Tribune was prophetic in his report, "The
dedicatory remarks of
President Lincoln will live among the annals of
The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reported that there were thousands who would
not read the elaborate oration of Everett but would read the President's few
words, "...and not many will
do it without a moistening of the eye
and a swelling of the heart."
Perhaps one of the best evaluations was given by a writer in the Harper's
"The oration by Mr. Everett was smooth and cold. . . .The few words of the
President were from the
heart to the heart. They cannot be read,
even, without kindling emotion. 'The world will little note nor long remember
what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.' It was
as simple and felicitous and earnest a word as was ever spoken."
The next day, Edward Everett wrote a note to President Lincoln in which he
"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."
THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on 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 on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a
portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their
lives that that nation might
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger
sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot 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 it can never
forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here
to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so
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
under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the
people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
- Abraham Lincoln
Nov. 19, 1863