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Casualties from the three-day battle of Gettysburg, PA (July 1 - 3, 1863) totaled nearly 50,000.  Following the battle the ground was littered with bodies.  On November 18, 1863, seventeen acres of the battlefield were designated a national cemetery.  The dedication ceremony featured Edward Everett, a famous orator of the period.  As an afterthought, the cemetery committee invited President Lincoln.

Lincoln scribbled his speech on the train ride to Gettysburg, a simple set of remarks, knowing that the keynote address would be Mr. Everett's.  After Mr. Everett had spoken for nearly two hours, the President stepped forward to share the words he had written.  It took him just 2 minutes, and received only sporadic and scattered applause.  Afterwards he whispered to an aide, "That speech went sour."

The following day Edward Everett wrote to the President.   "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours," he wrote, "as you did in two minutes."

President Lincoln replied, "In our respective parts yesterday, you could not have been excused to make a short address, nor I a long one.   I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure."

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 The Gettysburg Address

by
President Abraham Lincoln

November 19, 1863

 

President Abraham Lincoln

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 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.

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