The Importance of The Gettysburg Address

July 4, 2013

“Their feet are speedy to shed blood.”-Rom. 3:15

On November 19, 1863 Abraham Lincoln addressed a crowd at Gettysburg Pennsylvania. The speech he delivered was short and concise. A bloody battle had ensued some four months prior. 50,000 or more men had their lives snuffed out in a span of three days. The Union President Abraham Lincoln was dedicating the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and at the same time redefined the course of the Civil War.

The Union needed an affirmation that they were headed down the right path. That is why The Gettysburg Address was orated. Abraham Lincoln is still considered one of the most influential presidents in history, and The Gettysburg Address stands as one of the United States’ most memorable speeches. This speech is interesting, considering that the deliverer of it was mostly self-educated. And a country lawyer from the western frontier. I feel the speech was effective at the time. (Even for Confederate sympathizers.) The speech gave the people, a new mantra, “By the people, for the people.” Even though I feel the speech was effective, I also feel that the bloodiest battle in the Civil War should have commemorated all bloodshed there, not just the Union soldiers.

I feel the Union soldiers were singled out for the representation of the ideals of the Union. At the time he could not reconcile the commemoration of fallen Confederate soldiers to the Union, when these same soldiers supported the secession from the North and killed or maimed Union soldiers. Given President Lincoln’s position in the Northern society (being the leader of said society); he couldn’t show sympathy even if he wanted to. This was for the reason that the Confederate soldiers were proponents of slavery while he and the Union were on the other side of the coin. So, while it may have been conscionable to mention fallen Confederates, as the dead cannot be hated, it would not have been advantageous for Lincoln to even make a glancing comment about the dead Confederates.

Within the first line of the speech Lincoln states that a new nation was conceived on the ideal that “all men are created equal.” This speaks both to Logos and Pathos. Lincoln is utilizing logic with knowledge that was readily available. 87 years prior, a nation was founded. This bespeaks logic. When he states that “all men are created equal.” He is alluding to The Declaration of Independence. He is making a pathetic appeal. By using these words he is underscoring one of the main reasons for the war, slavery. This was a motivating introductory statement. Motivating in the sense that his audience would have been stirred to either begin participation in the war effort, or continue on in the war effort. His audience would be motivated given that they were likely comprised of families of fallen Union soldiers, wounded soldiers, freed slaves, and many wealthy Northerners.

In the following line of the speech he is utilizing pathetic appeal once again. He starts by saying “now we are engaged”. This is eliciting feelings of responsibility, and collusion for the war that is still in progress. He states “now”, and “we”. He makes these statements to bring to the mind of his audience that the war is “now” in progress and that “we” collectively need to take part in this (now) conflict. Next he goes to Logos and Pathos by stating, “Whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.” He chooses words that convey that the nation that started with ideals or “any” other nation may not “endure”. Another interesting point to note is that the word “nation” is used and not the word country. The word nation brings up thoughts of commonalities and similar origins within one united people. Unlike the word Country that only conveys thoughts of land and territory.

After the previous statement he conveys logic as well. He states the obvious, the locale of the battlefield. Though, still, it could also make a pathetic appeal. In eliciting a feeling of closeness via proximity to the place of great slaughter, it would bring out feelings of embitterment and sorrow. Maybe for those who did not personally experience a battle per se, it would give them a glimpse of the horror that is war. He could have made this commemorative speech anywhere else. But he did not. He chose this locale, this battlefield for a specific reason. He wanted to make the point that war is still close because of their proximity to such a bloody battlefield. This point was made so that he could get more support for the war. Making the correlation between the dead Union soldiers and the ground they were standing on.

After establishing proximity to the war, he states one of the reasons for him and the audience to be there. In stating that, “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.” This is a pathetic appeal. He is trying to elicit the feeling of responsibility for those present. He uses the pronoun “we”, and not I. He also talks about the nation as a whole in third person. To me making the statement “that nation” speaks of third person, he could have said “my nation”, “our nation”, “this nation”, but he didn’t. He said “that nation” third person to distance himself and the audience from the old nation. This to me brings thoughts of trying to distance the audience and himself from “that nation.” This distancing himself and his audience from the old nation is for the reason that the “new nation” might thrive. Also by stating that it “might live,” it may have caused his audience to think that the “nation” might die, either then or at now. In making the relation between life and death it would bring forth a sense of urgency within his audience to want to preserve the burgeoning nation of “freedom.”

In the next line comes the first ethical appeal. When Lincoln states, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” He is speaking to the morals of his audience. Basically saying they died on this ground, let us make it a cemetery. Given his 19th century god-fearing audience, the dead need a burial place. The beliefs and the ideologies of not only that audience, but, also of the general populace at that time would have made it unethical and illogical for such a place not to become a resting place for the fallen. He also uses pathetic appeal again with the pronoun “we.” This is again trying to get the audience to feel that they are part of what is happening. And what has happened to bring them to that blood-soaked tract of land to begin with. The affectation that his audience might have had at that time would have been of obligation to bring the war to a close. In doing so making sure that another atrocity such as this (Gettysburg) would never occur again.

After an ethical statement he makes a logical appeal. When Lincoln states,” But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.” By making this statement, Lincoln accepts that they (“we”) could not make such a place hallowed. That by sharing in the bloodguilt of the Union, and in some cases the Confederacy as well. A consecration by such men would have been hypocritical. When he says in “a larger sense,” Lincoln understands that in trying to “consecrate” it in the name of the Union. He would be balking at the sacrifice of all life there. This would mean in consecration in the name of the Union and the Confederacy. And, in acceptation of not only the Union deaths, but the Confederate deaths as well, Lincoln would have undermined the purpose of them being there to begin with. The purpose was a rejuvenation of the Union supporters to rally around the causal dispute that is the “Civil War.”

After Lincoln spoke using ethos, he made a statement encompassing pathos. When Lincoln states,” The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.” The mentioning of the dead and the survivors that “struggled here” makes a connection not to some abstract idea. It makes the connection with actual people. Also when it mentions that the ground was “consecrated.” The word was not used with a connotation as to be holy. It was used to denote that it was “consecrated” through blood. And that is why he said, “It is far above our power to add or detract.” In choosing the word “consecration” he chooses it for the reason that it conveys being put to a set purpose. The purpose of the land they were standing on was consecrated for battle and death. And, these consecrations were put into effect by blood. In acknowledging that it was “above” their power to add or detract. Lincoln accepts that what was done on the battlefield could not be changed. And, that ground was to be forever tainted with blood. This adds humanity to Lincoln’s speech, while detracting authority from him.

When Lincoln states,” The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” He acknowledges that “the world” will hardly take note of anything said there. This was the logical appeal. The world in itself is vast and if Lincoln had said that the world would notice. It would have been hubris on his part. But logically stating that it that “the world will little note” he was accepting that a dispute within a country let alone a single battle, would not command acknowledgement from “the world” as a whole. But the world at least in the context of the country itself, would never forget what happened at that forsaken and forlorn battlefield. This has thus far proved true, at least in the sense of the Battle of Gettysburg, and of what was said there.

After the acknowledgement that the world itself would little note Gettysburg, he makes an appeal to the logic and feelings of his audience. When Lincoln states,” 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.” “For us the living,” this is powerful statement. No doubt the tragedy that took place a mere 8 fortnights prior was brought to the minds of the people. It was brought to the minds of the people present so that they would finish what was started. This is intrinsically a pathetic appeal. Then when he mentions the “unfinished work” he is using a logical approach. By saying “unfinished” and noting its “advancement.” He is leaving it open for obvious inferring that they would need to finish it. And by “work” the atrocity of war was blatantly downplayed. By equating war with “work” Lincoln wants to make his audience less leery of battle, so that he can assure a Union victory.

After he makes the correlation between the people present at Gettysburg, with the dead within Gettysburg, he admonishes them with logic that it is up to them to finish the battle. When Lincoln states,” It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us.” He is saying rather than dedicating a piece of land that they would need to be dedicated themselves. He is making the connection for them. He wants his audience to take up “the great task.” The “great task” that he was referring to was the war and working towards the reunification of the Union and the Confederacy.

After stirring his audience for the war, he stirs them to partake in it, by utilizing logic, and pathetic appeal. When Lincoln states,” that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” He makes the correlation of what is needed with the “honored dead.” He makes this association for a reason. He wants the audience that is listening to him to be motivated for the cause at hand. He also wants the same devotion that the soldiers who had died, of his audience as well. He apparently stirred the requisite devotion. History tells us that the Union won, by the surrendering of the south.

When Lincoln states,” that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” By saying that, “we highly resolve” he wants his audience to come to a firm decision, about the dead. That they did not die for no purpose. But that their death would bring about the liberation of a people. Lincoln was trying to stir an affirmation within his audience that their own life should “be dedicated” to the purpose that those men and boys had. This bespoke of pathos. In making this type of appeal he is trying to stir patriotism in his listeners. He wants and needs his audience to rally for the Union, and guarantee that their cause was victorious. In looking at history his appeal here was apparently met with no apprehension as the Union won.

The concluding statement has elements of all three appeal types. When Lincoln closes his speech, he states,” 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.” By saying “this nation under God,” Lincoln is appealing to the morals of his audience. By connecting the nation with God, his 19th century audience would have associated the country with God. He makes this connection so that his audience would dedicate themselves to the nation as they would to God. In combining the ideals of a nation with the ideals of God, Lincoln wants the devotion of his audience to the “new birth.” In this devotion they would sacrifice themselves more readily. Believing somewhat erroneously that God supports the nation. When he says “New birth,” he is alluding to the fact that the country cannot and would not go back to the way things were before. It really denotes finality of the old ways. And finally by saying “by the people, for the people” he is making a pathetic appeal. He is saying it is by people like you, and for people like you. He stirs up emotions of brotherhood, and unity, these feelings under the belief, no, the ideal that this is their country, their nation.

The Gettysburg Address in its own time was effectual. But, it has a lasting effect in that many speeches have referenced this one. Through its brevity, it conveys a powerful message. The impact that this speech had and still possesses is staggering. The ideals laid forth within the speech are valuable. Though these words were penned and delivered on a somber occasion. I think the one thing that can be learned is that speeches do not have to be flowery or lengthy to have impact and staying power. If a speech lacks any of the three types of appeals, than it is just like Psalms 19:3 states, “There is no speech, and there are no words.” The Gettysburg Address is not lacking any of these.

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