On November 19, 1863, a dedication ceremony was held for the new Gettysburg Soldiers’ National Cemetery. The keynote speaker was Edward Everett, a famed orator who had served as a U.S. Senator, Massachusetts Governor and had been a candidate for Vice President in 1860 on one of the tickets opposing Abraham Lincoln. His two-hour, 13,000-word monologue is not remembered by history as anything but an opening act for the most stirring speech in American history.
President Lincoln had been invited to Gettysburg as an afterthought. His two minute, 271-word speech was initially thought by some to be a failure. In ten sentences, he recounted the nation’s founding and the desperate challenge it now faced. He spoke of the appropriateness of dedicating the cemetery, but also of the futility of trying to hallow the ground any more than those who had sacrificed there had already done. Lincoln stated his renewed determination to finish the work for which the fallen had given their lives, so that a better nation might be reborn and our unique system of self-government would endure.
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” Lincoln said. “But it can never forget what they did here.”
The crowd reacted with silence, and then scattered applause. Accounts differ over whether they were so moved by Lincoln’s remarks that they could not immediately react; whether they were caught off guard by the speech’s brevity; or whether the speech had been a failure.
160 years later, the Gettysburg Address is regarded as one of the greatest Presidential speeches in our nation’s history. Today we honor the anniversary of that famous speech and reflect on the legacy of Illinois’ favorite son, President Abraham Lincoln.
Learn more about the Gettysburg Address at https://presidentlincoln.illinois.gov/visit/whats-inside/exhibits/online-exhibits/gettysburg-address-everett-copy/