Delivered at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863, President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address has been called "the world’s foremost statement of freedom and democracy and the sacrifices required to achieve and defend them" (James McPherson). It has also been described as "perhaps the perfect combination of eloquence, elegance, and economy in our history, shining rhetorical proof of the design axiom, 'Less is more'" (Owen Edwards).
Both a prose poem and a prayer in its tone and shape, Lincoln's speech is a masterful example of epideictic rhetoric, marked by metaphor, antitheses, tricolons, and tetracolons. A century afterward, it served as an inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
The Gettysburg Address*
by President Abraham Lincoln
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon 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 here 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.
(November 19, 1863)
*This version of the Gettysburg Address is the so-called "Bliss text," the last from Lincoln's hand. Garry Wills treats this version as the standard text in his Pulitzer Prize-winning study Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (Simon & Schuster, 1992).