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Emmanuel Observes Sesquicentennial of Gettysburg Address

November 20, 2013

On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 19th, Emmanuel observed the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address with a reading of the Address and multi-disciplinary look at one of the most iconic and well-known speeches in history.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 19th, in the Janet M. Daley Library Lecture Hall, Emmanuel observed the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address with a reading of the Address and multi-disciplinary look at one of the most iconic and well-known speeches in history.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1-3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Penn., between Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War. With 51,000 soldiers lost on both sides, the battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war. Four and a half months later, President Lincoln delivered the two-minute speech to an audience of more than 150,000 at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg.

William Leonard, dean of arts and sciences and associate professor of history, moderated a panel of Emmanuel faculty that included Assistant Professor of History Jeffrey Fortin, Professor of English Lisa Stepanski and Professor of Political Science Marie Natoli. History major Ryan Slobig '15 delivered a reading of the Bliss copy of the Address, the only one of the five known copies that was signed and dated by Lincoln. It is also the version etched into the South wall of the Lincoln Memorial.

Leonard explained that Lincoln was never meant to be the featured speaker at the event. Massachusetts politician and noted orator Edward Everett had been invited to address the spectators, many of whom had lost family members in the battle, while Lincoln was asked to offer "a few appropriate remarks" after the oration. In contrast to Lincoln's brief words, Everett spoke for two hours. After the event, Everett wrote to Lincoln, saying, "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."

Fortin provided the historical context for the Gettysburg address, noting that at the time of the speech, Lincoln was an embattled president. In his 1861 inaugural address, Lincoln had promised to not get the U.S. involved in a civil war and to let slavery remain in the Southern states. He also remarked that the speech might have never happened had Lincoln traveled the day of the speech, rather than leaving Washington, D.C., by train a day prior to the dedication to "beat the traffic."

Professor of English Lisa Stepanski often teaches the text to her students as it exhibits the traits of classical rhetoric, at once timely, timeless and eloquent. She noted that the abundant use of one-syllable words, the variety of sentence structure and the overall conciseness of the ten-sentence speech were factors in why the Address was still such an important text in both the literary and political landscapes. Lincoln also never used the words "Southerner," "Northerner," "Union," "Confederacy," "slavery" or "Gettysburg" in the speech, using his time on the platform to present a more unified message to the nation.

"It offered praise for the dead and advice for the living," Stepanski said.

Professor of Political Science Marie Natoli, a scholar of contemporary presidencies such as John F. Kennedy's, offered a different perspective, asking the audience to imagine if the address had happened in the present day. Would the remarks have been as brief? Would Lincoln have used a speechwriter? Would there have been photo ops before and after? What would be the effects of social media?

That Emmanuel and the rest of the nation observed this sesquicentennial anniversary defied Lincoln's prediction that "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here," as the Address has become one of the most-quoted, most-taught and best-remembered speeches in American history.

Gettysburg Address - Bliss Copy

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.