In several days, we will mark the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It took less than two minutes to deliver and was less than 300 words, but it’s considered Lincoln’s best speech and perhaps one of the most eloquent in the English language.
The speech was delivered on November 19, 1863 at the dedication of a cemetery for the 7,500 soldiers who had died at the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg five months earlier.
Lincoln was actually invited as an afterthought to the ceremony. The main speech was delivered by Edward Everett, a former secretary of state and U.S. senator who was considered one of the great orators of the era. In the program, Lincoln’s speech is just listed as “Dedicatory Remarks.” Also, contrary to myth, the president did not compose the speech on the back of an envelope on a train to Gettysburg.
Five copies of the speech in Lincoln’s handwriting still exist, including the version begun at the White House and finished in pencil at Gettysburg the morning of the dedication. It is kept at the Library of Congress.
For more on Lincoln’s famous words, check out:
Books That Made History, Part 2 by J. Rufus Fears (available on CD and video).
Lincoln’s Speeches Reconsidered by John Channing Briggs.
Lincoln’s Prose by Abraham Lincoln (eAudiobook).
A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War by Harry V. Jaffa.