Prologue to the Gettysburg Address?


Forum Host
Oct 10, 2012
Mt. Jackson, Va
President #AbrahamLincoln was known to keep notes on various concepts and thoughts, spinning them around in his head, and on paper, for months. Oftentimes these ideas would later emerge in his most significant writings.
Such was the case with the Gettysburg Address, the seeds of which can be found in a rare, impromptu talk that Lincoln gave at the White House in July, 1863. People had gathered to celebrate double Union victories at Gettysburg National Military Park and at Vicksburg National Military Park when the president revealed the rough beginnings of a much more eloquent speech to come, when he spoke these unscripted words:
“How long ago is it? – eighty odd years – since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that ‘all men are created equal.’ Now, when we have a gigantic Rebellion, at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow the principle that all men were created equal…it is appropriate that on the 4th the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal, ‘turned tail’ and ran.”
These two concurrent Union victories were turning points in a war that threatened American democracy, the form of government that Lincoln called “the last best hope of earth.”
The symbolism of this watershed moment happening on the anniversary of American Independence was not lost on the president, or the country.



Feb 20, 2005
Great topic! I've read two books that discuss the Gettysburg Address and the manner in which Lincoln both built up to the final version as well as the historic connections of the language. It's been ages since I actually read the books, but since they both remain as impactful in my memory, they are likely beneficial in their own ways.

The first, which has the great history of the build up over the weeks as alluded to in frontrank2's OP is Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words by Douglas Wilson. The focus of the book is on the continued use, by Lincoln, of words to build his political career. The section on the Gettysburg Address goes into the various instances of building on earlier thoughts to come to the ultimate speech.

The other book, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America by Garry Wills, delves into the oratorical techniques that Lincoln uses, connecting to Greek and funeral oration for the linguistic stylings in the speech. As someone who is not even remotely adept at the Greek "classics" and linguistics that can be drawn from them, it is a fascinating insight into how a speech of this sort is constructed on a word by word basis and that each portion has a specific purpose and connection to prior/later parts of the speech. To be honest, it really made me feel like a Grade A ignoramus (but still an interesting read!)


Jul 31, 2021
That sounds like a book I very much need to read. Thank you for enlightening me. Feeling like an ignoramus inspires me to be better.