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Spinning President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

One of the last photos taken of Lincoln.

One of the last photos taken of Lincoln.

The wooden speaker's platform at the new Gettysburg cemetery was not very high off the ground, but it was filled with military officers, politicians and dignitaries wearing broad sashes to distinguish them from the crowd who came to listen.

Pushing up to the front of the temporary structure, were those who had gathered together at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as enlisted men, veterans and also family members of those who had died on this battlefield a little over four months before.

They came to remember those who had fallen in the bloodiest of all Civil War engagements, and to hear the words of the famed orator, Edward Everett who was to deliver the keynote speech of the ceremony.

A Dreary Day

The weather was overcast and the fields, especially where they had been excavated for new grave sites, were muddy from recent rainstorms which had hindered preparations for the event.

The dreary skies reflected the somber mood of the thousands who came to attend the dedication of the cemetery.

After a military procession and the seating of dignitaries including the President, a funeral dirge was played by the band, the Rev. Mr. Stockton, offered a 941 word invocation which was followed by the oration by Edward Everett as the main speaker at the ceremony .

Speaker of the day, Edward Everett.

Speaker of the day, Edward Everett.

Professor and Statesman

Everett had considerable personal credentials. He was a Harvard professor, and later president of Harvard. He also had served as a US Representative, Senator and Secretary of State -- as well as Governor of Massachusetts and Minister to Great Britain.

He was one of the most famous orators of the day and certainly the person that the respectful crowd wanted to hear. His speech was expected to be eloquent and inspiring.

Lincoln had been invited to "make a few concluding remarks" directly after Everett's lengthy speech. It was almost an afterthought to ask the president to speak, at all.

President Lincoln knew the people had come to hear the more famous speaker, and kept his presentation short.

Much to Everett's credit, and perhaps reflective of his sincerity, he later complimented the president for making the better speech of the day, even though the president took only two minutes, rather than the two hours that Everett needed.

Political cartoon featuring Lincoln and political opponent Stephen Douglas. The lanky "railsplitter " was often cruelly satirized during his political career.

Political cartoon featuring Lincoln and political opponent Stephen Douglas. The lanky "railsplitter " was often cruelly satirized during his political career.

If you grew up in the USA, you are familiar with the speech Lincoln gave on November 19, 1863. You may have even memorized it in school.

Two hundred and seventy words spoken almost a century and a half ago, remain fresh and inspiring even in these times.

What makes it so memorable and effective?

Let's look at it as a piece of writing and explore a couple of other ways it could have been written.

If you haven't read it for awhile-- look at the example to refresh your memory.

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The Gettysburg Address


There are at least five versions of the Gettysburg Address. The one above is the one inscribed on the interior wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The others vary only slightly, most notably, some are penned without the phrase, "under God", which may have been added at the time the speech was being delivered.

Some of the other drafts may have been early edits, but others were re-written for people (including Edward Everett) who requested a copy after the event.

Deconstructing the Address

Now, let's do a little deconstruction. First of all, Why "four score and seven"?

Lincoln might have just said "many years ago " or "a few generations ago" or even "eighty seven years ago".

Remember that the English language has some special names for certain numbers, like half dozen(6), dozen(12), baker's dozen(13) gross (12 dozen or 144), score (20), score-dozen (240) etc.

Back in 1863 when the speech was given, these terms were used more frequently than they are today. Everyone knew that a "score " was twenty.

So the phrase "Four Score and seven" meant four times twenty, plus seven. In a way, it sounds like less than saying eighty-seven years and perhaps was meant to emphasizes the point that the nation was born less than a century before -- not so many years in the life of a nation.