For three days in July 1863, Union and Confederate forces fought fierce
battles at and near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Union turned back one of the
last major thrusts of the Confederate troops toward the North. Many consider
it the turning point in the war; after Gettysburg, the South had to fight a
defensive war that was doomed to fail.
On November 20 of that same year, a battlefield cemetery was dedicated at
Gettysburg. Edward Everett, a well-regarded and prominent speaker, was the
main feature of the event. President Lincoln followed Everett's two hour
speech with what came to be known as the Gettysburg Address. In about two
minutes, Lincoln gave his speech; though the newspapers of the time had much to
say about Everett's speech and relegated Lincoln to the back pages, Everett
himself recognized the beauty of the simple elegance of Lincoln's words, and
told the President as much in a note he wrote to him the next day.
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.