The Gettysburg Address And American Revival

1746 words - 7 pages

The Gettysburg Address is without a doubt one of the most famous speeches in American history. However, at the time, it was simply an uplifting, motivational speech by the sitting president as part of a ceremony dedicating the Gettysburg Battlefield as a National Cemetery. Now, it is viewed as an historic address delivered by one of the greatest presidents and orators to ever live, Abraham Lincoln. It has also become the benchmark for speeches today and is the subject of many articles, talks, and books alike. Naturally, many speakers and authors offer a similar type of insight that one might have considered or encountered previously. In Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills offers an original perspective on the Address by arguing his belief that President Abraham Lincoln gave America “a new birth of freedom” with his famous words at the Gettysburg battlefield.
Wills breaks apart his argument into five chapters, all tying back to the idea of a “remaking” of America. The second chapter, “Gettysburg and the Culture of Death,” describes mostly how the setting for the Address played a key role in the power of Lincoln’s speech. Herb Brooks, coach of the “miraculous” 1980 United States Men’s Olympic Hockey Team, told his team, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” For Lincoln, the opportunity could not have been much greater. In seemingly his nation’s darkest hour, he was able resurrect the country from the heart of the war. The tragedy that occurred at Gettysburg was a building block that Lincoln needed to connect with his audience. He was able to draw on the loss of his son Tad to add an emotional connection to the Address adding another layer to it. In addition, the grave layout at the newly created National Cemetery in Gettysburg was shaped like a semicircle to symbolize equality amongst the soldiers, Union and Confederate. It was also created to appear like a more rural, beautiful place in contrast with the dark, gloomy graveyards of years past. Wills points out that this became more common in the nineteenth century which made the dedication of the National Cemetery more akin to a celebration than a sad moment. This completely changed the atmosphere of the occasion leading up to Lincoln’s speech. Wills believes this contributed to a remaking of America because it changed the way Americans felt about death. Previously, death was widely viewed only as a loss with no positive sides. The Gettysburg Address allowed people to see death in a new light – as something honorable if the preceding life was lived the right way. In turn, Americans became more willing to live what they considered honorable lives thus the United States was “reborn.”
The first chapter, “Oratory of the Greek Revival,” and the final three chapters, “The Transcendental Declaration,” “Revolution in Thought,” and “Revolution in Style” are focused more on the actual content of the Gettysburg Address. The Address itself had several Ancient Greek elements to...

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