Today it is regarded as the most famous speech in American history. Yet, in the news coverage of the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, President Abraham Lincoln's brief two-minute address was overshadowed by the two-hour speech given by Edward Everett, one of America's great orators.
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, we can reflect on how deeply divided our nation was at the time. Seven hundred and fifty thousand people died in the Civil War, according to revised estimates. That most horrendous war inflicted severe wounds on the country, from Gettysburg to Vicksburg, that still have not fully healed.
The Civil War was a tremendous personal burden for the president, whose determination to right a wrong resulted in so much death and destruction. As he rode on the train with his staff to the dedication at Gettysburg, he was ashen and weak. As Everett spoke, Lincoln stood for two hours waiting to give his remarks, looking out upon a vast sea of blue uniforms worn by soldiers, some of whom had served in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.
The dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery received front page coverage in many newspapers. Here is the headline from the New York Times:
THE HEROES OF JULY.; A Solemn and Imposing Event. Dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburgh. IMMENSE NUMBERS OF VISITORS. Oration by Hon. Edward Everett--Speeches of President Lincoln, Mr. Seward and Governor Seymour. THE PROGRAMME SUCCESSFULLY CARRIED OUT.
And buried deep within that New York Times article was a text of President Lincoln's speech, even noting where the crowd applauded:
Fourscore and seven years ago our Fathers brought forth upon this Continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. [Applause.] 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 battle-field of that war. We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting-place of those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. 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 power to add or detract. [Applause.] The world will little note nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. [Applause.] It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the refinished work that they have thus so far nobly carried on. [Applause.] 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 here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain; [applause] that the Nation shall under God have a new birth of freedom, and that Governments of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth, [Long continued applause.]
Three cheers were then given for the President and the Governors of the States.
Mr. Lincoln, the world did note and long remembered. Happy anniversary.