Seven sentences don’t seem like much. A mere 242 words—less than what Google will pick up on a search on the internet—changed a Nation. In 1863, the Civil War threatened to rip a young United States apart. The very fabric of her being was being torn by those who held to ideals of cessation, slavery, and States rights and those who held to unification, equal rights, and democracy. The turning point of that controversy came July 4, 1863, in Gettysburg, PA.
For three days, a battle that was never intended raged between Union troops and Confederate troops. The aftermath and death toll of the three-day battle reached upwards of 7,500 people. North and South alike lay on the battlefield which encompassed the entire town of Gettysburg. The inhabitants wanted to honor the dead—burry them properly. They had sought to purchase land for a cemetery and have the fallen’s families pay for the burials. One man, however, decided that it would not be as honorable for those who could not afford the funerals. Instead, David Willis petitioned the Governor of Pennsylvania to have a National Cemetery to honor the fallen of the Civil War. He was granted permission, and he purchased the original 17-acres.
He wanted to have the cemetery dedicated in October, but the person he wanted to have speak—Edward Everett—would not be able to have a speech prepared in the brief amount of time. The date was pushed back and set for November 19, 1863.
Everett was a well-known orator of the time. He held many high positions through out his career and had been very well noted for his speaking ability. He prepared his 13,000 plus word speech to dedicated and consecrate the cemetery.
Willis decided to invite the President of the United States, as well, to give official sanction. President Lincoln agreed and began to plot what he would say.
On that cold November day, Everett took the stage and began to speak. For two hours, he went on about the significance of the war, the honor of the fallen, and gloriousness of the nation that would rise up from the tragedy of war. When he concluded, applause erupted and people were moved to tears. From an analytical standpoint, Mr. Everett focused on the pathos and logos of his speech—the emotional and thought-evoking appeals.
President Lincoln took the stage and stared out at his audience. He began to speak the seven sentences that—at the time, were ill-received, but—have become widely known. The second Gettysburg Address recalled items from the Declaration of Independence--Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation,--as well as the current situation--Now we are engaged in a great Civil War--and called the people to look to the future for their survival.
Seven sentences. Two hundred forty-two words. There was no applause. There were no cheers. Everett spent two hours detailing the three-day battle and the sacrifices made by each man. Lincoln—the President of the United States—never once mentioned any names or even the issue of slavery. Lincoln simply spoke to the ethos—the embodiment of his words—the logos and the pathos would not be realized for years to come. The seven most important words in the history of the United States were nearly forgotten. Today, those 13,000 plus words that Everett spoke preceding Lincoln’s speech are rarely even mentioned. His detailed recounting of the horrors of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg have faded from history and in their place, the 242 words from a President who’s term was laced with controversy and ended unwillfully at the hands of an assassin.
For more information on the analysis of the speech, please visit the following links:
For more historical information on the background for the speech, please visit the following links:
The History Place
How Stuff Works (also offers an analysis of the speech)