On Nov. 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln stood on the battlefield at Gettysburg to dedicate a portion of that land as a national cemetery. The featured speaker of the day was Edward Everett, acclaimed as possibly the greatest classical orator of his time. A former United States senator, Governor of Massachusetts, and President of Harvard University, he spoke for more than two hours to an audience of over 25,000 people. His was a masterful address, broad in its scope and dramatic in its presentation.
Next was a musical interlude by the Baltimore Glee Club. And then, finally, President Lincoln was formally introduced, and the people settled back down in their chairs and on the grass to listen to him.
Lincoln spoke simply and clearly, and startled the people by the briefness of his remarks. After his opening sentences he said:
“We are met on a great battlefield 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 cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot 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.”