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Dissecting one of America’s Most Powerful Speeches: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

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Emily Weiss

on 10 December 2013

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Transcript of Dissecting one of America’s Most Powerful Speeches: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Setting the Stage for the Gettysburg Address: November 19, 1863
Large Scale Tension
Civil War was a war for the future of the nation:
South's goal = independence, establishment of a new country
North's goal = keep the Union together
Began in April 1861 with the Battle of Fort Sumter:
Lincoln refused to acknowledge independence of the Confederate states
Early Confederate victories demonstrated that this war would not be short
Some Glimmer of Hope
Rhetorical Tools
in his Pocket
A Symbolic Stage
A National Cemetery would be dedicated as final resting place for 3,500 soldiers at Battle of Gettysburg
Dedication Ceremony- Nov. 19, 1863
Edward Everett was the headline speaker w/ a 2 hr speech
Lincoln invited to make "a few appropriate remarks" (at left)
Audience included 15,000-20,000 people in attendance and journalists reporting to newspapers across the country
Gettysburg Address
Emancipation Proclamation
Logical Appeal
Emotional Appeal
metaphor of birth & rebirth sets stage
imagery of the founding documents and the story of one soldier's story
repetition of live and lives

Union victories after emancipation show change the tide of war:
Battle of Vicksburg in MS (May 18-July 4) divides the south in two
Battle of Gettysburg in PA (July 1-3) puts General Robert E. Lee on the retreat
President Lincoln's short speech, "Response to a Serenade," from 2nd floor of the White House on July 7 responds to these recent victories in what is almost "a first draft" of the Gettysburg Address:
Lincoln asks exactly how long it has been, but he refines this in the coming months...
And now he builds on this imagery to redefine the Civil War to the American public...
Defining the purpose of the war in the context of the Declaration of Independence
Recognizes the power of this occasion for meaningful remarks
Previews here the approach he will use at Gettysburg - not naming names but honoring all Union soldiers
January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued military order to: (1) free enslaved people in rebellious territory and (2) authorize black men to join Union forces.
Lincoln struggling to define and redefine the purpose of the war - no longer a war to restore the Union to what it was.
Slaves in rebellious territory are now free and their freedom will be protected by the national government.
Right to work for reasonable wages
An act of justice which will not go without debate and political controversy
Opportunity to enlist in the armed service
Establishes moral authority with the a Biblical rhythm
Begins with founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence, authoritative pieces of the American story
Document 1 - Emancipation Proclamation - January 1, 1863
Document 2 - Response to a Serenade - July 7, 1863
One of the most powerful speeches in US History:
272 words
10 sentences
2 minutes in length

What is needed to deliver one of the most powerful speeches in American history?
Starts with reference of the past and moves to the present war before he makes a call to action for the future
Asks people to do something logical

"We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of."

- Patriot & Union, November 24, 1863
"...the site of the great battle for the Union is now marked by an appropriate cemetery where rest its honored dead..."
"...and the dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of the war."

- Chicago Tribune, November 19, 1863
"The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterance.."

-Chicago Times, November 23, 1863
“There was one disappointing feature about it – its marked brevity. The speaker had, as we thought, but barely commenced when he stopped. That clear, ringing voice ceased before we were ready for it. There was a pause between the closing of the address and the applause because the people expected more; but when it was apparent that the address was really concluded, the applause was most hearty. . .”

- Jared Peatman, “Profound Silence, Followed by Hearty
Applause: Gettysburg Responds to Lincoln’s Address,” unpublished manuscript
People of Gettysburg Respond
Dedicated in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial includes the inscription of the Gettysburg Address.
"Lincoln came to change the world, to effect an intellectual revolution. No other words could have done it... The miracle is that these words did. In his brief time before the crowd at Gettysburg he wove a spell that has not, yet, been broken — he called up a new nation out of the blood and trauma."
- Historian Garry Wills, in Lincoln at Gettysburg (1992)
One Historian's Analysis
Charles Sumner's Eulogy for President Lincoln
"The President spoke very briefly; but his few words will live as long as Time. Since Simonides wrote the epitaph for those who died at Thermopylae, nothing equal has ever been breathed over the fallen dead. ... That speech, uttered at the field of Gettysburg, and now sanctified by the martyrdom of its author, is a monumental act. In the modesty of his nature, he said: “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here.” He was mistaken. The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech. Ideas are more than battles."

-Senator Charles Sumner, June 1, 1865
Full transcript