11/21/2019

A Reading of the Gettysburg Address

"The Gettysburg Address will, accordingly, turn out to be a distillation of Lincoln’s political philosophy, which he, on this occasion as on many others, attempted to infuse into the nation at large, a nation distinguished by the fact that its prosperity “has a philosophical cause” (p. 513). It is for this reason that the written versions of the speech have no formal salutation, just as its body does not contain the pronoun “I.” The very brevity that made its ten sentences at the time so fugitive in the hearing makes them a “permanent possession” in later readings. For because of it the speech is readily learned by heart and is, in fact, learned by heart by many school children. That means that it may succeed in lodging in the heart, in the form of sound sentiment, those very propositions, essential to the national life, which are too difficult—and perhaps too dubious—to be continually kept in mind. Lincoln recognized that “In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything.” Lincoln’s rhetoric aims at the conversion of political principle into “moral sentiment” (p. 401)."