The Gettysburg Address is one of the best known speeches in American History. It was delivered by Lincoln during the American Civil War, on 19 November 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies inflicted a defeat on the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Lincoln effectively summed up the consequences of the war in ten sentences. Lincoln stressed on the harmony between the early settlers and Native Americans in the early years. He highlighted the fact that liberty and equality were the core components for the emancipation of America. Lincoln urged the common man and the politician to consider the lives lost in the attempt to save the nation from colonisation, and to pay tribute to the unsung heroes. He emphasised that the Gettysburg address may be forgotten in time, but not the soldiers who willingly laid down their lives. He urged the gathering to take up the cause and complete the task at hand, to usher in a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’.
The speech by Abraham Lincoln, in a way, redefined the Civil War. He propagated the struggle as one meant to witness the rebirth of freedom and people’s power over the state. The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, making the town a burial ground for over 7,500 soldiers. Its significance lies in the fact that Lincoln’s political sentiments re-addressed war effort and challenged the outcome that otherwise seemed in favour of the ‘copperheads’. On account of much political rivalry, it was not a success at the time.
Abraham Lincoln was an advocate of peace and the end to the civil war. The importance of the Gettysburg Address united the nation and their commitment to democracy. Even though the emphasis on equal justice, unfaltering resolution, and the new-world definition of democracy took time to sink in, the significance of his words were soon recognised by the people.
Lincoln had effectively made the people aware of their rights and declared the government answerable to the people. He redefined democracy as an independent offshoot of citizen will and not some property of the state legislatures. Lincoln delivered the address to consistently initiate inquiry and political shift, even after his death.
On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. began his ‘I have a Dream’ Speech with these words: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity”.