Gettysburg Address: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:02 The Purpose of the Speech
  • 0:54 All Men Are Created Equal
  • 1:47 The Survival of the Nation
  • 2:31 A New Birth of Freedom
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Lively

Amy has an M.A. in American History. She has taught history at all levels, from university to middle school.

This lesson discusses the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in American history. Learn more about what Abraham Lincoln's speech means and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Abraham Lincoln

The Purpose of the Speech

Even though Abraham Lincoln's 1863 speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is the speech that everyone remembers, Lincoln was not the featured speaker that day. That honor went to Edward Everett. Lincoln and Everett had traveled to Gettysburg to dedicate a national cemetery. Sadly, the United States needed one because of the tremendous death toll of the Civil War.

Everett, a former senator and the former president of Harvard College, was known as a wonderful speaker. He gave a powerful speech that day and addressed the crowd for more than two hours. Lincoln's speech was not nearly that long; the Gettysburg Address lasted about two minutes and is only 272 words, but those words are very memorable.

All Men Are Created Equal

When Lincoln stepped to the podium, his first words were about the Founding Fathers and what they intended for the new nation. Lincoln drew from the Declaration of Independence when he said that the nation was based on the idea that 'all men are created equal.' While that may not seem very controversial today, this was a radical idea in 1863; the Constitution said nothing about equality.

Lincoln was saying that the Founding Fathers were the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, not the signers of the Constitution. It was a message to Confederates, who liked to point out that the Constitution did not prohibit slavery. Lincoln implied that the Declaration of Independence expressed what the Founding Fathers really wanted for the United States.

The Survival of the Nation

Lincoln then said that the country was fighting a civil war to determine if a nation based on equality 'can long endure.' The men who died in battle had given their lives to help preserve the Union. That was the reason for the new national cemetery; however, Lincoln said that that work was not done. It was up to the living to continue to fight for the country's survival so that 'these dead shall not have died in vain.' Lincoln urged Americans to stay focused on keeping the Union together so that democracy, or 'government of the people, by the people, for the people,' could survive.

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