Abraham Lincoln head on shoulders photo portrait

President Lincoln. Wiki Commons.

Index of Primary Texts

Delivered at Gettysburg Battlefield, 19 November 1863.


[1] 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.

[2.1] Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. [2.2] We are met on a great battle-field of that war. [2.3] 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 live. [2.4] It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

[3.1] But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate--we can not consecrate--we can not hallow--this ground. [3.2] The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. [3.3] The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. [3.4] It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here thus far so nobly advanced. [3.5] 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.


General CommentaryEdit

The speech was so short that not many present on the battlefield would have heard it--since it was over by the time most orators would just be finishing their exhordia.  However, it fit nicely on one page of the newspapers that carried it.  The structure of the speech takes us from past to present to future time, and divides around a "great antithesis"--that negates consecrating the dead on the battlefield in favor of honoring their sacrifice by continuing the war as a vindication of freedom and equality.

Line by Line CommentaryEdit

[1.1b] "all men are created equal " (Declaration of Independence).

[3.5] The predicate is amplified four times, in climactic apposite progressive clauses.  

[3.5d] "government of the people, by the people, for the people" paraphrases Daniel Webster in his "Second Reply to Hayne: "It is, Sir, the people's Constitution, the people's government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people" ([42 para. 42] ). It forms part of Webster's argument against the supposed right of States to nullify Acts of Congress. The pair "new birth of freedom / government of the people" creates an inclusio with 1.1bc, "liberty" and "equal".

External LInks Edit

"The Gettysburg Address." Online Exhibition. Library of Congress. 18 Feb. 2015.