Edward Everett was the nation's foremost orator when he spoke to a large crowd in Gettysburg, Pa., on Nov. 19, 1863. For three days in July, Union and Confederate soldiers had clashed there in what was seen later as the pivotal battle of the Civil War. Some 7,000 soldiers, Northern and Southern, had died and been buried near where they fell. Later, the bodies were moved to a new military cemetery. President Lincoln, Cabinet members, state governors, and other officials had come to this village in southern Pennsylvania for the cemetery's dedication.
Mr. Everett spoke for two hours. His speech was filled with classical allusions and a vigorous denunciation of secession.
After a hymn, Lincoln rose to speak briefly. Contrary to legend, he had not written the speech hastily, but had crafted it carefully in Washington. He was still revising his remarks as he spoke.
Lincoln was displeased with the result. "That speech won't scour," he said. "It is a flat failure." Others, including Everett, disagreed. He wrote to Lincoln: "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." Lincoln's remarks were so brief that the crowd hesitated after he finished, uncertain that he was through. Then they applauded enthusiastically. But it was Everett's speech that appeared on the front pages of newspapers, not Lincoln's, and many opposition papers predictably disparaged the speech.
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 here to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for 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 can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not 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 nobly advanced. 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