On November 19, 1863, A cold autumn wind blew across the hills of South Central Pennsylvania. The nation was still at war that divided families, states and the country itself. On one chilly Gettysburg hill, people gathered to remember the dead from a now infamous battle, opening a new cemetery on 17 acres purchased by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the direction of the Governor.
A representative from the Commonwealth invited a famous orator of the time, Edward Everett to speak at the dedication of the cemetery. Just a few weeks before, Governor Curtin contacted President Lincoln requesting a “few appropriate words” to consecrate the grounds. Edward Everett spoke from the makeshift stage for over 2 hours, the crowd hanging on his words. Very little is remembered from Everett’s speech however, President Abraham would be the next speaker, Lincoln’s speech would last slightly longer than two minutes, his words would be a great monument for those who fought at Gettysburg.
These are the words as written and published as the original draft by Lincoln’s personal secretary, John G. Nicolay:
“Four score 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.
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 come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do.
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 hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.
It is rather for us, the living, we here be 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 these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, 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.”
Photo from Gettysburg Address (GettysburgAddress.org)