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'Four score and seven years ago ...': The Gettysburg Address at 150

On its sesquicentennial, Lincoln's speech is still a rhetorical marvel

10:12 PM, Nov. 18, 2013  |  Comments
Abraham Lincoln, photographed at Mathew Brady's gallery by Anthony Berger.
Abraham Lincoln, photographed at Mathew Brady's gallery by Anthony Berger.
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Editor's note: Today is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, the speech written and delivered by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery. That the speech is a marvel of rhetorical concision, the art of fitting large ideas into a few words, is well-known - but to read it closely in 2013 is to be moved and amazed by the elegance of its expression and the humble tone with which it takes on the weightiest of ideas. Here it is in its entirety:

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.

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