Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, gave the now-famous “Gettysburg Address” speech on November 9, 1863 during the American Civil War. “The Gettysburg Address,” only two-hundred and seventy-two (272) words and estimated to have lasted only two-three minutes, was Lincoln’s way of encouraging the American people to maintain their support for the Civil War. The speech was, however, about much more than war. Lincoln delivered the speech to emphasize American ideals of freedom, justice and equality for all people – tenets central to America’s origins, development and future.
This essay will provide the following: 1. ) the American Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence and their influence on the “Gettysburg Address,” 2. ) the importance of the “Gettysburg Address” during the Civil War era, and 3. ) the relevance of the “Gettysburg Address” during the 20th and 21st centuries. While the “Gettysburg Address” was short in length, it refers to America’s long history based on the struggle for civil liberties. For example, some European explorers traveled to the Americas in search of wealth in the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s; while others sought religious and political freedoms.
By the 1700s, thirteen British colonies were established in North America. In 1770s, colonists rebelled against British rule and started the American Revolutionary War. In 1776, colonial leaders drafted the Declaration of Independence. This document declared the original thirteen states free from British rule. It also emphasized the colonial beliefs in individual rights and the equality of men with following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. ” Lincoln referred to the Declaration of Independence in the “Gettysburg Address. ” He used it to explain that the United States of America was created based on the principles of equality and freedom. Because of America’s origins, Lincoln argued that all people were created equal, and that the government of the United States existed to protect the rights of all Americans.
Lincoln stated, “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. ” In that statement, Lincoln compared the Civil War to the American Revolutionary War. He suggested that the two wars were both based on the pursuit of freedom and equality for all, and that the Civil War was necessary because of that. He also emphasizes here the importance of preserving the United States Government, which exists to protect the rights of all Americans.
Lincoln’s referral to the Declaration of Independence in his speech was not only a reference to the importance of America’s history. It was also a plea to his audience during the Civil War Era. The Civil War, begun in 1861 with South Carolina’s secession from the Union, was primarily a battle over the right to continue the practice of slavery. American slavery forced people of African origin to provide free labor. It also denied people of African origins basic rights.
Slavery was the basis for the economy in most southern states. In many northern states, slavery had been outlawed and was seen as unjust. Thus, the issue of slavery divided the United States. As a result, Lincoln used the “Gettysburg Address” to encourage Americans to fight to preserve the “united” States. According to Lincoln, the United States was based upon freedom and equality, and that our government was created to protect the rights of its citizens, regardless of their race or religion.
He stated in the “Gettysburg Address:” “…Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure… 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. ” Lincoln also used the “Gettysburg Address” to encourage continued support of the Civil War when the American public was exhausted by the horrors of war.
Lincoln gave the “Gettysburg Address” in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. This ceremony commemorated the Battle at Gettysburg, which occurred in July 1863 and resulted in more than 7,000 deaths, more casualties than any other Civil War skirmish. The Battle at Gettysburg was a turning point in the war, weakening the Confederacy. Because of the large number of deaths, Lincoln also utilized the “Gettysburg Address” as a way to memorialize those who had lost their lives. He stated: “We are met on a great battle-field of that war.
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…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…” Thus, Lincoln appealed to the American public, asking them to support the Civil War to protect individual freedoms, to preserve the nation, and also in remembrance of the men who lost their lives during and as a result of the war.
Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” had origins in the American Revolutionary War in the 1770s, was created to gain public support of the Civil War in the 1860s. It has also been used repeatedly in the 20th and 21st centuries to promote American ideals of freedom and equality. One of the most notable examples of this is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ’s “I Have a Dream” speech. King was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which was designed to give blacks the same rights as whites – like the right to vote, the right to go to different public places, etc.
King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 in Washington, DC before more than two hundred thousand (200,000) people, and referred to President Abraham Lincoln and his “Gettysburg Address” speech. King stated: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation…” In conclusion, Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” was not only important historically, but it is relevant today. His speech was about two concepts. First, he promoted the belief that all people were created equal and deserve the same rights and freedoms.
Second, he promoted the idea that our government, and thus our country, is worth preserving because both exist to protect those rights and freedoms we all deserve. The fight for equality in our country still exists; while it is less about race and more about simple economics. Lincoln’s speech summed it up – it doesn’t matter what you look like, how much money you have, or your educational level – all people are created equal. And, our government exists simply to protect that concept.