What Became the Most Famous Speech in American History?

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech that would become one of the most famous speeches in American history. Known as the Gettysburg Address, this speech was delivered during the American Civil War at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The Context

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1-3, 1863 and was a turning point in the Civil War. The Union victory at Gettysburg marked a major setback for Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army and is often considered the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.

The Speech

President Lincoln’s speech was only 272 words long and took just two minutes to deliver. Despite its brevity, it has become one of the most powerful and enduring speeches in American history.

The opening line of the speech is perhaps its most famous: “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.”

Four score and seven years ago refers to 87 years prior to when Lincoln gave his speech – which was 1776 when America declared its independence from Great Britain.

Lincoln used parallel structure throughout his speech to emphasize his points. For example, he stated that “we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow” this ground where soldiers died for their country.

He also used rhetorical devices, such as repetition and imagery, to make his message more impactful. He spoke of those who fought at Gettysburg as having “given their lives that that nation might live” and urged listeners to ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

The Impact

The Gettysburg Address had an immediate impact on those who heard it. It was praised for its eloquence and emotional power, and some even suggested that it was the greatest speech ever given by an American president.

Over time, the speech became a symbol of the ideals of freedom and democracy that America stands for. It has been quoted countless times in speeches, articles, and books, and is often taught in schools as an example of effective communication.

Conclusion

The Gettysburg Address remains one of the most famous speeches in American history. Its concise yet powerful language and enduring message have made it a lasting symbol of hope and inspiration for generations of Americans.