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Home » » Critical analysis of Abraham Lincoln's speech "Gettysburg Address"

Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” is one of the best known speeches in the political history not only of the United States but also of the whole world. Delivered on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, the speech marks one of the important moments in the life of the US President. The occasion for this great speech was the American Civil War or, to be more precise, the battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle that decided the fate of the war. The speech is basically a reaction to the battle of Gettysburg and Lincoln took this as an opportunity of paying homage to the national heroes who sacrificed their lives for national solidarity. Though the immediate occasion for the speech is the battle of Gettysburg, it goes beyond that gruesome battle of the American Civil War. It involves’ American history in general as its background. Lincoln connects his speech with the American War of Independence and the ideals that it advocated and promoted. 

The immediate purpose of the speech is to pay homage to the Civil War heroes, particularly to the ones who have laid down their lives in the decisive battle of Gettysburg. Dedication is his aim. He has 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.” But he states that “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 to detract.” In an indirect way, Lincoln reminds his fellow men of the duty that is now before them. He hints at the great tasks done by the brave sons of the soil for the greater national interests. 

Thus, dedication is at the core of the whole speech. At the very outset he reminds of the dedication of the Independence War heroes to the ideals of liberty and equality. Then, as he dedicates “a portion of that field” to the Civil War heroes, he urges his fellow countrymen to dedicate to the noble unfinished task. After the Civil War, it is the responsibility of the living Americans to shoulder the responsibility to finish the unfinished task. The mission has remained still incomplete because they died before they reached their goal. Now the living Americans have to stand tall in dedicating themselves to the ideals that the dead wanted to achieve.

In the speech, Lincoln also redefines America as a nation. Though America as a nation came into being through its War of Independence in the 18th century, it failed to fully materialize the independence ideals of liberty and equality on its soil. Racial distinctions have been quite prominent. The blacks have been slaves to the whites. But the Civil War has drawn an end to the past ignominious history. Out of the ashes of the Civil War a new nation has been born with the principles of liberty and equality for all. In this speech, Lincoln hopes that after the Civil War America will be a land in which all citizens irrespective of their caste, colour and race will enjoy equal opportunities. 

Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” is very brief but succinct. It is tightly structured and pithy. It is a metaphoric speech. Lincoln speaks in metaphoric language. Apparently the speech is quite simple, but Lincoln has infused it with deeper meanings. Throughout the speech the metaphors of birth, death and rebirth occur. They not only attach great literary value to this short but succinct speech but also render it special significance as Lincoln redefines American nation. 

Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” is one of the most memorable speeches ever delivered in the history of the world. Though the genesis of the speech is the American Civil War, Lincoln goes beyond and involves the American War of Independence, another watershed event in the history of America. Viewed from historical, political as well as social perspective Lincoln's “Gettysburg Address” was the most important step forward in mobilizing public sentiment against the colour  barriers in American society. 


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