Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and promoting economic and financial modernization. Reared in a poor family on the western frontier, Lincoln was mostly self-educated. He became a country lawyer, an Illinois state legislator, and a one-term member of the United States House of Representatives, but failed in two attempts to be elected to the United States Senate.
After opposing the expansion of slavery in the United States in his campaign debates and speeches, Lincoln secured the Republican nomination and was elected president in 1860. Before Lincoln took office in March, seven southern slave states declared their secession and formed the Confederacy. When war began with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, Lincoln concentrated on both the military and political dimensions of the war effort, seeking to reunify the nation. He vigorously exercised unprecedented war powers, including the arrest and detention without trial of thousands of suspected secessionists. He prevented British recognition of the Confederacy by skillfully handling the Trent affair late in 1861. He issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and promoted the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, abolishing slavery.
Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including commanding general Ulysses S. Grant. He brought leaders of various factions of his party into his cabinet and pressured them to cooperate. Under his leadership, the Union set up a naval blockade that shut down the South’s normal trade, took control of the border slave states at the start of the war, gained control communications with gunboats on the southern river systems, and tried repeatedly to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. Each time a general failed, Lincoln substituted another until finally Grant succeeded in 1865. An exceptionally astute politician deeply involved with power issues in each state, he reached out to War Democrats and managed his own re-election in the 1864 presidential election.
As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican party, Lincoln found his policies and personality were “blasted from all sides”: Radical Republicans demanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats desired more compromise, Copperheads despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists plotted his death. Politically, Lincoln fought back with patronage, by pitting his opponents against each other, and by appealing to the American people with his powers of oratory. His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became the most quoted speech in American history.[i] It was an iconic statement of America’s dedication to the principles of nationalism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy.
At the close of the war, Lincoln held a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to speedily reunite the nation through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness. But six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was assassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre. His death was the first assassination of a U.S. president and sent the northern parts of the country into mourning.
Gettysburg Address (among TIME Top 10 greatest speeches), is the famous speech delivered by Lincoln on November 19, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He presented it at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, honoring those who died in the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg earlier that year.
Lincoln’s speech puts the Civil War in perspective as a test of the success of the American Revolution. The nation founded on equality was in the midst of a war to determine whether such a nation could continue to exist. He said that they were gathered to formally dedicate ground hallowed by the men, American citizens, who died there, but his speech turned the event into a rededication of the living to the war effort to preserve a nation of freedom.
… Lincoln’s speech lasted only 2 minutes. Because it was very short compared to the other speaker, there was silence from the audience afterward. Some said it was because they were not sure that he was done, but others said that the crowd was in awe of what was said. His speech was brief, to the point, and poetic yet understandable. It is a classic piece with famous lines now recognized by people worldwide.
272 words. 3 minutes long. Yet, the Gettysburg Address is unarguably one of the greatest pieces of rhetoric in American history. Dr. J Rufus Fears (one of the great modern orators) argues that the Gettysburg Address, along with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, form the three founding documents of American freedom.
While the speech itself was only two minutes long, it is considered one of the most powerful speeches ever. The speech touched upon the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the constitutional rights of all men. The speech was the first step to try and re-unite the country that was torn by the Civil War.
The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln’s most famous speech and one of the most quoted political speeches in United States history, was delivered at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863, during the American Civil War, four and a half months after the Battle of Gettysburg.
There are several sources of the speech, five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address are each named for the associated person who received it from Lincoln. All versions differ in their wording, punctuation, and structure.”
The below is the version (the Bliss version) of the text inscribed on the walls at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
The Gettysburg Address
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 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 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.
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On June 1, 1865, Senator Charles Sumner commented on what is now considered the most famous speech by President Abraham Lincoln. In his eulogy on the slain president, he called it a “monumental act.” He said Lincoln was mistaken that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” Rather, the Bostonian remarked, “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech.”
[i] Bulla, David W.; Gregory A. Borchard (2010). Journalism in the Civil War Era. Peter Lang Publishing Inc., ISBN 1433107228, p. 222
[ii] Ranking Our Presidents. James Lindgren. November 16, 2000. International World History Project. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt are ranked on top.
[iii] Americans Say Reagan Is the Greatest President. Gallup Inc. February 28, 2011: “Americans’ views on the topic of great presidents appear to have coalesced around three presidents: Lincoln, Reagan, and Kennedy. One of these three has been at the top of the list in each of eight surveys conducted since 1999.”