The Gettysburg Address: An Analysis

On 19 November, we commemorate the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863.

In one of the first posts on this blog, I compared Lincoln’s two-minute address with the two-hour oration by Edward Everett on the same occasion. Today the former is universally regarded as one of the most famous speeches in American history; the latter is largely forgotten. Indeed, Everett himself recognized the genius of Lincoln’s speech in a note that he sent to the President shortly after the event:

“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

In a speech that was comprised of only 10 sentences and 272 words, Lincoln was able to strike a chord that would resonate not only with his audience, but one that would resonate through time. Why is this short speech so memorable?

First, it is important to remember the context. America was in the midst of a bloody civil war. Union troops had only four months earlier defeated Confederate troops at the Battle of Gettysburg which is widely recognized as the turning point in the war. The stated purpose of Lincoln’s speech was to dedicate a plot of land that would become Soldier’s National Cemetery to honour the fallen. However, the Civil War still raged and Lincoln realized that he also had to inspire the people to continue the fight.

Below is the text of the Gettysburg Address, interspersed with my thoughts on what made it so memorable.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

  • “Four score and seven” is much more poetic, much more elegant, much more noble than “Eighty-seven”. This is fitting, because 87 years earlier, the United States had won its freedom from Britain and thus embarked on the “Great Experiment”.
  • Lincoln reminds the audience of the basis on which the country was founded: liberty and equality. This is a perfect set up to the next sentence.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

  • Here, Lincoln signals the challenge. The principles on which the nation was founded are under attack.
  • He extends the significance of the fight beyond the borders of the United States. It is not just a question of whether America could survive, but rather question of whether any nation founded on the same principles could survive. Thus does the war — and the importance of winning it — take on an even greater significance.

We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

  • Lincoln turns to recognize those who have fallen for their country.
  • He uses contrast effectively. By stating “those who here gave their lives that this nation might live” Lincoln makes what is perhaps the ultimate contrast: life vs death. Contrast is compelling. As Nancy Duarte says in her book, Resonate, “People are naturally attracted to opposites, so presentations should draw from this attraction to create interest. Communicating an idea juxtaposed with its polar opposite creates energy. Moving back and forth between the contradictory poles encourages full engagement from the audience.”
  • He uses consonance — the repetition of the same consonant in short succession — through words with the letter “f”: battlefield; field; final; for; fitting.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.

  • Notice the use of a “triple”: “can not dedicate … can not consecrate … can not hallow”. Triples are a powerful public speaking technique that can add power to your words and make them memorable. For an excellent overview of triples and the power of three, read this post by Andrew Dlugan.
  • Say the sentence out loud and hear the powerful cadence and rhythm.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

  • This sentence is full of solemn respect for those who fought. It is an eloquent way of saying that their actions speak louder than Lincoln’s words.
  • There is an alliteration: “poor power”.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

  • There is a double contrast in this sentence: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here” / “but it can never forget what they did here.”
  • Note the appeal to something larger. It is not the United States that will never forget, but the entire world.
  • Ironically, Lincoln was wrong on this point. Not only have his words been remembered to this day, they will continue to be remembered in the future.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

  • The final two sentence of the address sound a call to action, a resolve to complete “the unfinished work”.
  • They are full of inspirational words such as “dedicated”, “nobly”, “great”, “honored”, “devotion”, “highly resolve”, “God”, “birth” and “freedom”.
  • There are a couple of contrasts here: “the living” with “the honored dead”; and “these dead shall not have died in vain” with “this nation … shall have a new birth of freedom”.
  • Earlier, Lincoln said that, in a sense, they could not dedicate the ground. Here, he tells the audience that to which they must be dedicated: “the unfinished work” and “the great task remaining before us”.
  • He finishes with a powerful triple that has become famous throughout the world: “of the people, by the people, for the people”.

In an excellent analysis of the Gettysburg address, Nick Morgan offers an interesting perspective on Lincoln’s repetition of one word throughout the address:

And buried in the biblical phrasing there’s a further device that works unconsciously on the audience, and the reader, to weave some incantatory magic.  I’ve discussed this speech many times with students, with clients, and with colleagues, and I always ask them what simple little word is repeated most unusually in the speech.  No one ever spots it. …

When they look, people notice that the word ‘we’ is repeated 10 times.  But that’s not unusual, or surprising, given that Lincoln was trying to rally the nation.  The speech was all about ‘we’.  No, what is unusual is the repetition of the word ‘here’. …

Eight times in 250 words — two minutes — Lincoln invokes the place — the hallowed ground of Gettysburg — by repeating the word ‘here’.  As a result, he weaves some kind of spell on listeners, then and afterward, that is not consciously noticed, but unconsciously seems to have a powerful effect.

Repetition is an essential aspect of great public speaking.  The trick is knowing what and how to repeat.  Take a lesson from Lincoln.  Sometimes its the little words that have the most power.

We can learn a lot about public speaking by studying the great speeches of history. The Gettysburg address is one of the greats. Lincoln took his audience on a journey that began with the founding of America and ended at the crossroads at which the country found itself at that moment. He wanted to make sure that Americans chose the right path. And he did.

For a fitting conclusion to this post, I want to share this wonderful animated video of Lincoln’s speech that adds a new dimension to his words.

About John Zimmer

A Canadian now living Switzerland, I am married, with two terrific teenage daughters. I am passionate about public speaking and helping others improve their public speaking and presentation skills.
This entry was posted in Analysis of a Speech, Delivery, History of Public Speaking and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

90 Responses to The Gettysburg Address: An Analysis

  1. Moshiur says:

    Prove that the Gettysburg address as a piece of literature.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comment, Moshiur. I am not sure what you are asking. The Gettysburg Address is certainly a great speech. Whether it qualifies is literature is open to debate; however, it is unquestionable an eloquent and inspiring piece of writing.


  2. Nigel Beal says:


    I note that in the audio recital of the speech on this site, the speaker has added an “and” that is not in the text. It appears in the phrase “by the people (and) for the people…”. I only noticed this because, as an exercise, I have been trying to commit the speech to memory. It is without doubt one of the classic utterances of all time. Do you think that it was written primarily to be spoken or mostly with an eye to it being read? Given that Lincoln would have known that his short dedication speech would follow the lengthy oration by Edward Everett, I think it was mostly written to be read. (One can only have sympathy for the audience having to sit or stand through Everett’s two hour oration) Also it seems to me there is another subtle triple repetition that occurs in the passage “It is for us the living … last full measure of devotion.” In this part, Lincoln invokes the obligation of the living to the dead three times in different ways. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying it three times!

    Finally, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The following sentence comes from the reported sentencing speech by the judge in the shoe bomber case (Jan 2003). The judge said “The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. The day after tomorrow, it will be forgotten, but this [our freedom in the US], however, will long endure.” In the same remarks, there is a further homage to a later president’s inaugural speech, which I leave for the curious find.

    Best regards,

    Nigel Beal

    • John Zimmer says:

      Dear Nigel,

      Thank you for the message. I appreciate your taking the time to write.

      As to your question, I cannot say for sure, but knowing what an astute guy Lincoln was, it wouldn’t surprise me if he wrote it both to be heard and read. I had not noticed the extra “and” slipped in the audio. Good catch! The “and” weakens the sentence. Without it, we have the rhetorical device, polysyndeton, which is very powerful when used properly (as Lincoln did).

      Thanks, also, for the reference to the Unabomber sentencing. I did not know that! Very interesting. Indeed, some things never go out of style.



  3. Yevgeniy Gelberg says:

    Would you say that his speech was short, but important and the other guy who spoke for two hours wasn’t important? What was that guy’s name as well?

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi, Yevgeniy. Thanks for the questions.

      The other fellow to whom you refer was Edward Everett. I compared his speech to Lincoln’s in this post from 2009. I don’t doubt that Everett’s speech was important and that he had good things to say. But it went on for two hours! I am sure that much of the good stuff was lost amongst text that could have been cut. Indeed, soon after the event, Everett wrote to Lincoln and said, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

      The lesson in all of this is to be rigorous, if not ruthless, when it comes to speech-craft. Focus on the message and dispense with anything that detracts from it. And nobody ever complained about a speech being under time!



  4. Would you say Lincoln’s speech worked and who would you is the “audience” he is giving this speech to? I would really appreciate your input and also what do you think he wanted “them” to do?

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Daniela,

      I do think that Lincoln’s speech worked. The fact that it is still so well known today is but one indicator. I believe that he had three audiences in mind: the first, of course, was the people who were assembled in Gettysburg that day; the second audience was the wider American population at the time who would hear about or read about the address; and the third was for future generations. I do think that Lincoln had the foresight to leave a message that would resonate for generations.

      As for what he wanted the people to do, well, first of all there was a civil war that had to be won. However, beyond that, there was the still (and always) unfinished business of building a nation based on the principles upon which it was founded.



  5. Milotas says:

    Hi, I still cannot understand why Abraham Lincoln uses the word “dedicate” 6 time in this short speech. Do have an idea?


    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Milotas.

      I have two ideas. First, repetition of a key word in a speech is tried and true rhetorical device that lends emphasis and power to the words. Second, inherent in the word “dedicate” is the notion that we are doing something for someone (or something) else. In the context of Lincoln’s speech, there was a dedication those who had thus far died in the civil war, but there was also the notion that Lincoln wanted the people to dedicate themselves to the task of building their nation and staying true to the principles upon which it was founded.

      Hope this is helpful.


  6. abirami says:

    wonderful. deeply analysed

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  9. latishal96 says:

    Thank you so much. My AP English Language and Composition teacher gave us this speech for homework and told us to analyze and take notes. This analysis of the speech has been very very helpful. Thank you so much!!

  10. Aditi says:

    thanks a lot for the great help you provided by posting this great analysis.After going through your analysis,I have begun to appreciate this speech even more than before.I desperately need your help,sir.I am a student of ninth standard and am participating in an inter school elocution competition.we are required to recite an actual speech by a historical character in just two minutes.I thought for going for this speech but wonder if it would be the right choice.Also,I am confused so as to how to introduce myself to the audience because a regular introduction is a bore and common one.Please help me sir,i am very confused,the competition is on the day after tomorrow.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Dear Aditi,

      Thanks for the comment. I am glad that you enjoyed the post.

      Now, as for your contest, a few things:

      1. Take a deep breath and relax. Keep the contest in perspective. Yes, it is exciting and nerve-wracking – I competed in a speech contest only yesterday, so I know how it feels. But you need to focus the nervous energy constructively and not let it overwhelm you.

      2. The Gettysburg Address is a perfect speech for two minutes.

      3. Usually in a contest, you do not have to introduce yourself. The Contest Chair does that. He or she should call you to the stage when it is your turn. If you must introduce yourself, just say something like “My name is *** and I have chosen to recite one of the most important speeches in history, The Gettysburg Address (assuming you choose this speech).

      4. Warm up before you speak. Find a quiet place and stretch your arms and neck and shoulders. Swing your arms to get the blood flowing. Practice your voice. Drink only warm liquids or room temperature liquids. No fizzy drinks.

      5. Speak slowly and with conviction. Put some emotion into it. Remember how important this speech was and why Lincoln gave it. It is your job to share it with the audience.

      6. Pause after key sentences in the speech.

      7. Smile when you are done. Don’t forget to shake the hand of the Contest Chair.

      I hope that these tips help. Good luck with it and have fun. It is a privilege to be able to share a message with an audience.

      John Zimmer

    • Andy Jonas says:

      An idea. Represent yourself as a REPORTER OF THE DAY’S EVENT, GATHERING, AND THEN READ THE SPEECH. Sorry, the cap lock was on.

      • John Zimmer says:

        That’s a very good idea, Andy. Thanks for sharing it.

        Aditi, you said you only had two minutes to recite the speech and the Gettysburg Address should take about that much time. (You don’t want to rush through it.) But if you have a bit of extra time, Andy’s idea is a clever one.


        • Aditi says:

          thank you so much,sir.You have helped me very much.I am very grateful to you as well,Andy for you cared to help me.Still quite nervous and hope I do well.Anyway,thanks a lot.

        • John Zimmer says:

          Glad to hear it, Aditi. Best of luck! Remember, treat it as a learning experience and have fun. Let us know how you do.

  11. Abu khalid says:

    Thank you very much!!

    Could you please help me, my professor asked me to write paper about the speech that I have to write three or four reasons about why this speech is great? With evidence from speech. :(

    • John Zimmer says:

      Dear Abu Khalid,

      Unfortunately, I cannot write the paper for you. You will have to think about the speech and come up with the reasons on your own. You already have the post that I wrote. I recommend that you also have a look at this excellent article on the speech. It might help you as well.

      Good luck!

      John Zimmer

      • Abu khalid says:

        I really appreciate your comment!
        However, I did not mean write instead of me, just help me with ideas, but I saw the link that you sent it and I wrote paper could I send it to your emil and give me your advice and tell me if I have wrong ideas?
        Thank you so much!

        • John Zimmer says:

          I appreciate your confidence in me, but I have to decline. I am extremely busy at the moment, but more fundamentally, it would not be appropriate for me to direct you in your schoolwork without knowing the curriculum or the focus of your teacher. I suggest that you ask your teacher to look at your draft and give preliminary feedback. Alternatively, you could ask one of your classmates.

          I wish you success with it.


  12. Randie says:

    What do you think the strengths of this speech are?

    • John Zimmer says:

      Well, Randie, I would have to say that the speech’s strengths are its brevity, its eloquence, its universal message and its call to action.

      Thanks, for the question.

      John Zimmer

  13. Padate says:

    I thank you so much sir, God bless you.

  14. Padate says:

    Hi sir. I have my oration presentation in my english class, can i use gettysburg address? If so, how can i perform it? I mean. Is there a body gestures or action? Or just simply standing while reciting? Thanks ahead.


    • John Zimmer says:

      Dear Padate,

      Thank you for the questions. Assuming that for your oration presentation you can use a famous speech (as opposed to one that you write yourself) I see know reason why you cannot use the Gettysburg Address. It is one of the most famous speeches in the English language. Be aware, however, that it is relatively short. I don’t know if you have to speak for a minimum time, so take that into account.

      As for gesturing, my recommendation is to use gestures that feel natural to you. The speech is a very solemn one, so you do not want to overdo it; however, a well-time gesture, for example, with your hand or arms to emphasize a key point would be effective. More than gestures, however, it is your voice that will be most important for this speech. Be sure to let it rise and fall at the right times and don’t forget to pause at key moments to let the significance of the words sink in. Speak in a measured rhythm and do not rush the speech.

      Hope this is helpful. Best of luck with it!

      John Zimmer

  15. Andy Jonas says:

    Dear John,

    I just wanted to thank you for your speaking points and thoughts. Curiously enough, I am a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, California. While I have employed several of the tactics and forces that you discuss in your article, I have never seen them explained so well.

    Whether to a jury, judge, or prosecutor; I try to employ the methodology you describe and highlight with your eyesight. I think I just used some of your and Lincoln’s method. In any case, thank you for your concise evaluation of a pretty special speech.



    • John Zimmer says:

      Andy, I very much appreciate your comments as I too am a lawyer. When I was practicing law in Canada, I found that judges appreciated eloquence but not verbosity, passion but not theatrics. And they especially liked it when barristers could cut through reams of evidence and present a simple, cogent argument on the key points. (They also liked it when lawyers had a bit of a sense of humour and would show their humanity.) The best presentation skills, in my view, are still the ones that have been handed down through the centuries.

      Thanks again and good luck with your cases.


  16. Great piece, John! This is very helpful. I’m a lover of great speeches!

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks very much for the comment and also for referencing my post on your blog. Thank you also for introducing me to the cyclorama. I had not heard of it before and I watched a video of it on YouTube. Truly impressive!


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  18. Nallely says:

    Dear John,

    Thank you so much for this detailed information. It really helped on my English assignment. :)


    • John Zimmer says:

      Dear Nallely,

      Thank you for the comment. I am glad that the post helped you with your assignment. All the best for the rest of the school year.


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  20. Annie J says:

    What an interesting analysis on the Gettysburg Address! You seem to have taken heed to some unique points, such as the contrasting. and when the President says ‘world’ instead of our country. There’s definitely a lot more power and just over-all inspiring things to learn from Lincoln’s speech now that it’s been elaborated so finely.

    Similar to one of your reviewers, I was looking for a new way to view this address for an English assignment, as I was definitely looking at in black and white. I felt I wasn’t grasping all that there was so wisely embedded into it, but I’m glad that I had found this.

    Hopefully I can build off of your interpretation and further admire the Gettysburg Address.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Dear Annie,

      Thank you for the kind comment. I am glad that you found the post useful. I have no doubt that you (and others) can find more that it good about the Gettysburg Address.

      All the best,


  21. savi jimenez says:

    Mr. John I agree with all the complements people had given you. I have a quick question, do you think the thesis of this speech is the first sentence?

    Thank you.


    • John Zimmer says:

      Dear Savi,

      Thank you for the comment and the kind words. You pose an interesting question.

      Because the speech is so short, every sentence has great significance. In the first sentence, Lincoln reminds the audience of the principles on which the United States was founded. However, it is the final sentence that is the real call to action and, as you put it, the “thesis” of the speech. That sentence — and it is a long one — is as follows:

      “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

      Kind regards,


  22. Noor says:

    Thank you so much for this detailed analysis! I have gone through many people’s analysis of The Gettysburg Address, yet none have been as helpful. I admire how you extracted effective public speaking techniques from the interpreptations of the words in this famous speech. My english assignment seemed like a piece of cake after reading this! Thanks again!

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thank you very much for the kind words about the post, Noor. I am glad that you found it helpful. Best of luck with the rest of your English, and other classes.

      John Zimmer

      PS – I’ve always liked the name Noor. I know that it means “Light”. (Atakelemu al arabiya. Qalilaan.)

  23. Shaiv G. says:

    Thank you for such a detailed and comprehensive stylistic analysis of this speech, Mr. John. It was extremely helpful, as I have picked up this speech as the main primary text for a further oral activity in school. Your analysis has helped me to a great extent; thanks once more.


    • John Zimmer says:

      Dear Shaiv,

      Thank you for the message. I am glad that you found the post helpful and wish you all the best with your studies.



    • Adriana says:

      Thank you so soooo much for having such a detailed and good analysis of this speech! :-) It did help me with my report very well. I just wanted to tell you thank you thank you thank you!!!!!!!! You’re a lifesaver! I will be looking forward to your reply. Thank you Thank you Thank you! May GOD Bless you and your Family! Thanks again!

      P.S. sorry for not having so many big advanced words I’m only in 7th grade

      Thanks again!

      • John Zimmer says:

        Dear Adriana,

        You’re welcome you’re welcome, you’re welcome! :-) I am glad that you found the post helpful. Thank you for stopping by to leave a comment.

        And don’t worry about not using “big advanced words”. Too many people try to use too many fancy words and it just makes their message more difficult to understand. When you write and when you speak, it is good to use a big word from time to time; however, for the most part, stick to the simple words. As Winston Churchill said, short words are the best words.

        Best of luck with your studies.

        John Zimmer

        • Adriana says:

          Thanks so much for your reply!
          p.s. (Don’t take offense of this question just curious) Do you speak Spanish? It would kinda be cool if you did because I do :-)
          BTW I made an A on my report thanks to you! I’ll be looking fwd to your reply!


          peace, Love <3, Happiness :-), plus +, Star
          Paz, Amor, Felizidad, y, estrella!!!!!

        • John Zimmer says:

          Hi Adriana,

          Lo siento. No hablo muy bien espagnol. Congratulations on your report.

          Best regards,

          John Zimmer

        • Adriana says:

          Thanks! :-) I’m glad you replied thanks again! God Bless you and your family!
          p.s. its ok if you dont know spanish you might on the other hand know some other language and i respect that:-)

          alright bye!

  24. Trolololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololololol says:

    Great analysis of the speech!

  25. Lawson Smith says:

    Thanks John, for such a detailed analysis! It has certainly gave me a new perspective of the address, as it was indeed, very helpful in my research. But more importantly, I have began to realize what a great influence the speech had on history. For example, before he gave the address people saw it as “The United States are a free goverment,” but now it is “The United States is a free goverment”. I’m doing a project called National History Day. People from all across the country compete at different levels, nationals being in D.C. The theme for this year is “Turning Points in History” and this is my thesis statement for my documentary. Garry Wills’ Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America has provided me with a great deal of information and I highly recommend it you.


    P.S. Sorry for the poor structure of my comment, I’m only in sixth grade.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Dear Lawson,

      Thank you very much for the thoughtful (and well structured!) comment. It is great to see young people such as yourself taking an interest in subjects such as Lincoln’s address and the historical context in which it was given. It bodes well for the future.

      I wish you the best of success in the competition and hope that you make it to Washington, D.C.


      John Zimmer

  26. mike says:

    While all of these assessments of Lincoln’s speech are clearly good ones, allow me to throw a wrench in the works. Has anyone ever considered why the country was fighting against itself, and further more does anyone feel that there is a reflection on the word “we” in Lincoln’s speech for all men. Including men and women that were bound by the institution of slavery. Lincoln was an abolitionist, and the very fact that he gave this speech on the border of slavery seems very interesting to me. “…all men are created equal”, really gets my wheels spinning. You know that Frederick Douglas and Lincoln were friends, the North would not have won this battle without the use of African American men fighting in their armies.

    Would love to hear some input about my random thoughts.


    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comment, Mike.

      You raise important issues, but ones that go well beyond the focus of this blog. I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean by “a reflection on the word ‘we’ in Lincoln’s speech”, but going through the speech again, it seems to me that the “we” changes depending on the sentence. Sometimes “we” refers to the entire country; sometimes it refers to the people who were gathered at Gettysburg; sometimes it refers to those finding against slavery and the South.

      I do know that many African Americans did fight in the war (and I recall the movie “Glory” was about the first all-black regiment). I also know that there is still some debate over Lincoln’s response to the issue of emancipation, but my knowledge of American Civil War history is not good enough for me to express an educated opinion. Others may feel free to weigh in.



  27. Violet Lily says:

    Thanks for the analysis. This helps with my oral comm speeches! :)

  28. There is a hidden structure to Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, including the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln used the structure of ancient Euclidean propositions. These contain six distinct elements, an enunciation (with a given and sought), an exposition, a specification, a construction, a proof and a conclusion. This discovery is described in a book I co-authored, “Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason”.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Dan, thanks very much for sharing this insight with us. I was completely unaware of Lincoln’s fascination with Euclidean geometry. But your comment prompted me to do some digging and I came up with this anecdote from Lincoln himself:

      “In the course of my law reading I constantly came upon the word “demonstrate”. I thought at first that I understood its meaning, but soon became satisfied that I did not. I said to myself, What do I do when I demonstrate more than when I reason or prove? How does demonstration differ from any other proof?

      “I consulted Webster’s Dictionary. They told of ‘certain proof,’ ‘proof beyond the possibility of doubt’; but I could form no idea of what sort of proof that was. I thought a great many things were proved beyond the possibility of doubt, without recourse to any such extraordinary process of reasoning as I understood demonstration to be. I consulted all the dictionaries and books of reference I could find, but with no better results. You might as well have defined blue to a blind man.

      “At last I said: Lincoln, you never can make a lawyer if you do not understand what demonstrate means; and I left my situation in Springfield, went home to my father’s house, and stayed there till I could give any proposition in the six books of Euclid at sight. I then found out what demonstrate means, and went back to my law studies.”

      Thanks again for sharing this insight. Your book is now on my “to read” list.



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  30. Jen says:

    Thanks so much! This really helped me with my literature homework.

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  33. Ali says:

    Have you got any analysis and spoken language studies of President Obama’s Inaugral Address? If you haven’t I would be so happy and grateful if you could do one.

  34. Great analysis!

    It would help me to do my, study the “state of the Nation Address: an analysis” it gave me the idea. Thank you, Sir John Zimmer. I hope that you could do more analysis from different literature so that many students learn from you.

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  36. Again, a wonderful analysis.

    Contrast is such a strong idea, and Lincoln’s use of “We” does, too. A century and many score years later, Neuharth exploited to power of that word when he gave the world USA Today. “We” appeals to audience members, and readers.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comment, Harry. You’re right – “we” makes the audience feel like they are part of the story, part of the message, part of the solution.

  37. Pingback: T. R. BlackEye’s Contrarian Presidents’ Day Post: Taking Lincoln to the Woodshed. | Orange Juice

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  39. John – While president Lincoln’s command of the English language was impeccable, it would seem that the historical essence of his speech was much more important. That is Garry Wills’ contention in Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America (1193) — “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Thus he relied more on the Declaration of Independence than the U.S. Constitution and made a bridge with European liberalism by using Giuseppe Mazzini’s words “the government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

    Cheers, Osvaldo

    • John Zimmer says:

      Osvaldo, thanks very much for the additional historical perspective. Very interesting indeed. It is a testment to Lincoln that he was able to draw on history and blend it seemlessly with the solemnity of the occasion to create such a masterpiece of a speech.



  40. Mel says:

    Great analysis, John!

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  42. I have read that Lincoln revised the Gettysburg Address more than 60 times. Regardless of whether or not that number is true, it’s obvious that he made every word pull its weight.

    Great post on this timeless speech.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks, Patricia. If you click on the first link in the post, you will see that, in fact, there were different versions of the speech. I am not too familiar with the history, but it is interesting. But you are right about Lincoln making every word count.



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