On this date in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Union cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s brief remarks followed the hours-long oration of Edward Everett, which has largely been forgotten. The Chicago Times editorialized embarrassment at Lincoln’s speech, but Everett himself felt that Lincoln had said more in two minutes than he had said in two hours. In less than 300 words, Lincoln surveyed America’s past founding and its then-present civil war, ending with the hope that its future would be characterized by a “new birth of freedom.”
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 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.
Here’s an excerpt from Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary that focuses on the address: