President Lincoln Delivers Gettysburg Address

November 19, 1863

Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg

Early morning showers turned into brilliant sunshine.  Commissioner of Buildings Benjamin Brown French wrote“As soon as the dignitaries who occupied the stand, numbering perhaps 250, were seated, Hon. Edward Everett & Rev. Thos. H. Stockton appeared[,] escorted by a Committee of Governors of States, and being seated, one of the bands struck up and performed a solemn piece of music in admirable style.  That over, Mr. Stockton made one of the most impressive and eloquent prayers I ever heard.  The Band then played, with great effect, Old Hundred.  Mr. Everett then arose, and without notes of any kind, pronounced an oration.  He occupied two full hours in the delivery, and it was one of the greatest, most eloquent, elegant, and appropriate orations to which I ever listened.  I stood at his very side, through it, and I think the oratory could not be surpassed by mortal man….

“Mr. Everett was listened to with breathless silence by all that immense crowd, and he had his audience in tears many times during his masterly effort….

“As soon as the hymn was sung, Marshal Lamon introduced the President of the United States, who, in a few brief, but most appropriate words, dedicated the cemetery.  Abraham Lincoln is the idolof the American people at this moment.  Anyone who saw & heard as I did, the hurricane of applause that met his every movement at Gettysburg would know that he lived in every heart. It was no cold, faint, shadow of a kind reception – it was a tumultuous outpouring of exultation, from true and loving hearts, at the sight of a man whom everyone knew to be honest and true and sincere in every act of his life, and every pulsation of his heart.  It was the spontaneous outburst of heartfelt confidence in their own President.

Witness George D. Gitt (then a self-described “boy of fifteen, intent upon being as close to Lincoln as was physically possible without being on top of the platform, had concealed myself earlier in the day among the huge store boxes that formed the foundations of the structure; and during the delivery of the address I stood with my heart in my mouth, literally at the feet of my hero.)  remembered: “When Edward Everett finished speaking. Lincoln slowly took his hand from his chin, bent slightly forward, and very deliberately drew from an inner pocket of his coat a few flimsy pieces of paper.  These he shuffled from hand to hand until the particular sheet he was seeking appeared.  Leaning back in the chair again, but without recrossing his legs, he intently studied what he had written on that sheet.  The posture was characteristic, and some sculptor has long since given it permanency in bronze.  Tucking away the papers, he arose, and very slowly stepped to the front of the platform.  The flutter and motion of the crowd ceased the moment the president was on his feet.  Such was the quiet that his footfalls, I remember very distinctly, woke echoes, and with the creaking of the boards, ti was as if someone were walking through the hallways of an empty house.

The crack through which for a moment or two I had glanced at Edward Everett I now found to be of no use, for Lincoln had stationed himself just a little in front of it, and only his coat tails were visible.  An instant later, to my great relief, he stepped back a pace or two and again I could lookup into that sad face with its furrowed brow.  The brooding eyes now glowed with a stranger light such as is sometimes provoked by a fever.  Then Lincoln began to speak.  Word followed word so slowly that the value of each syllable was unduly magnified.  ‘Fourscore and seven years ago our forefathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation’  — here there was a decided pause; this pause I well remember because I held my breath, wondering what had happened to cause it — ‘conceived in liberty’ — another pause and more high emphasis, this time on the word ‘liberty’ — ‘and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’

Beginning with the next sentence he spoke more rapidly, but somewhere near the middle of the address he slowed again to the tempo of the opening words.

Now the group of Negroes off to one side, that had been wailing ‘Amens’ in an undertone, lifted their voices higher and higher as the simple eloquence of Lincoln moved them.  A number of them were weeping; others with closed eyes repeated phrases of the address.  The dep resonant voice continued: ‘…whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.’  These words were spoken very slowly indeed.  With the next sentence he quickened his delivery, and when he came to ‘gave his last ful measure of devotion,’ tears trickled down his cheeks, and I could not help some welling up in my own eyes.

Then he cleared his throat.  With a large white handkerchief, which he drew from the inner pocket of his coat and allowed to dangle for a moment from his right hand, he brushed away the tears and mopped his brow, and for the first time, as I remember, shifted his feet.  During the final phrases of the address I was thrilled as I had not been by all the previous sentences.  It was certainly not what he said that made me feel so, but the way and manner of his saying it.”

With the address finished, the assemblage stood motionless and silent.  The heads were bowed as were those of the Negroes, who now, with a long and solemn ‘Amen,’ were the only ones to disturb the stillness.  The extreme brevity of the address together with its abrupt close had so astonished the hearers that they stood transfixed.  Had not Lincoln turned and moved toward his chair, the audience would very likely have remained voiceless for several moments more.  Finally there came applause and a calling, ‘Yes!  Yes!  Government for the people!’  It was as if the blue Ridge Mountains to the west were echoing Lincoln’s concluding and keynote thought.

Edward Everett was the first to approach the President and shake hands with him.  He said with feeling that Lincoln’s few eloquent words had been written upon the memory of man and would endure, while his own were only for the moment.  The others of importance who had been seated well forward on the platform, now surrounded the President.  Noticing that some of the Christ Church choir members were trying to approach him, he waved aside the notables and began to shake hands with the singers.

Among them was a girl of fifteen, several years younger than any of the others, Louisa Vandersloot.  He had heard her high, clear soprano voice; he motioned her toward him.  Leaning over two of the older choristers, he extended his long arm and, as he puts it, ‘his great, warm, all-enveloping hand took hold of my little one and almost crushed it.’  That evening, during a reception, the President again singled out this girl and once more crushed her tender fingers with his great hand.  She is now a woman of almost my age — Mrs. M.O. Smith; and frequently we exchange reminiscences of the Day of the Dedication.  She, just as I, fairly felt his kindliness and greatness of soul and ‘tingled all over’ when he held her close to him.

In his brief Gettysburg Address, which aide John Hay described as delivered “in a firm free way, with more grace than is his wont” President Lincoln stated: “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 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 can not dedicate–we can not consecrate–we can not hallow–this ground.  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 here gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead 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.

Helen Nicolay, daughter of presidential secretary John G. Nicolay, wrote: “Newspapers stated that Mr. Lincoln read from a manuscript in his hand.  My father sat only a few feet away, and his distinct recollection was that the President held the manuscript but did not read from it, his deliver by being far more than a mechanical reading of written words. My father’s recollection is borne out by the fact the speech as taken down in shorthand by the Associated Press and printed next morning in the newspapers does not follow exactly the written words.  My father thought it most likely that, during the ride to the grounds and the deliver of Mr. Everett’s oration, Mr. Lincoln fashioned the phrases anew in his silent thought and had them ready when he rose to speak.”   Benjamin Brown French wrote: ““After the President had concluded, the Gettysburg Choir sung a Dirge, accompanied by the Band, in excellent style, and with great effect.

“Doct. Baugher, President of the College, then pronounced the benediction, and the Marshals formed and escorted the President back to his lodgings, where he arrived about 3 P.M. After dinner, the Marshals assembled on foot & escorted the President to the Presbyterian Church where an address was delivered by the Lt. Gov. of Ohio.    I should have said that for about an hour after the return of the President to Mr. Wills’s, he received all who chose to call on him, and there were thousands who took him by the hand.  At ½ past 6 he left in a special train for this City, and arrived home about midnight.  That evening, and the succeeding morning[,] a vast multitude left Gettysburg.

Washington Marshall Ward Hill Lamon recalled: “After its delivery on the day of commemoration, he expressed deep regret that he had not prepared it with greater care.  He said to me on the stand, immediately after concluding the speech: ‘Lamon, that speech won’t scour!  It is a flat failure, and the people are disappointed.’  (the word ‘scour’ he often used in expressing his positive conviction that a thing lacked merit, or would not stand the test of close criticism or the wear of time.)  He seemed deeply concerned about what the people might think of his address; more deeply, in fact, than I had ever seen him on any public occasion.  His frank and regretful condemnation of his effort, and more especially his manner of expressing that regret, struck me as somewhat remarkable; and my own impression was deepened by fact that the orator of the day, Mr. Everett, and Secretary Seward both coincided with Mr. Lincoln in his unfavorable view of its merits.

Lamon added: “As a matter of fact, the silence during the delivery of the speech, and the lack of hearty demonstration of approval immediately after its close, were taken by Mr. Lincoln as certain proof that it was not well received.  In that opinion we all shared.  If any person then present saw, or thought he saw, the marvelous beauties of that wonderful speech, as intelligent in all lands now see and acknowledge the, his superabundant caution closed his lips and stayed his pen.  Mr. Lincoln said to me after our return to Washington, ‘I tell you, Hill, that speech feel on the audience like a wet blanket.  I am distressed about it.  I ought to have prepared it with more care.’  Such continued to be his opinion of that most wonderful of all his platform addresses up to the time of his death.”

Published in: on November 19, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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