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, people regard the former as one of the most famous speeches in American history; the latter 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 of only 10 sentences and 272 words, Lincoln struck a chord that would resonate through time. Why is this short speech so memorable?

The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln

First, it is important to remember the context. America was in the midst of a bloody civil war. Union troops had only recently defeated Confederate troops at the Battle of Gettysburg. It was a 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. However, 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”. The United States had won its freedom from Britain 87 years earlier, embarking on the “Great Experiment”.
  • Lincoln reminds the audience of the founding principles of the country: liberty and equality. In so doing, he sets up his next sentence perfectly.

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 nation is under attack.
  • He extends the significance of the fight beyond the borders of the United States. It is a 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. It creates 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 “tricolon”: “can not dedicate … can not consecrate … can not hallow”. A tricolon is a powerful public speaking technique that can add power to your words and make them memorable.
  • 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 do we remember his words to this day, we will continue to remember them 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 to dedicate themselves to “the unfinished work” and “the great task remaining before us”.
  • He finishes with his famous tricolon: “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. It began with the founding of America and ended at a crossroads. He wanted to make sure that Americans chose the right path. And he did.

We might never deliver a speech or presentation that becomes as famous as the Gettysburg Address, but we can still make an impact when we speak. For a comprehensive, step-by-step overview of how to write a speech outline, please see this post.

And for a fitting conclusion to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, enjoy this video.

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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

      1. This should be read and seen every day to remind America what their fathers fought for, black and white .

  5. 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.

    1. Hi Ali. Thank you for the comment and suggestion. I have not analyzed any of Barack Obama’s speeches, but have noted your idea and will certainly consider it for the future.

      1. John,
        President Obama began using Lincoln’s Euclidean system for structuring his speeches in January, 2011, shortly after “Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason” was published. We have a second book coming out analyzing numerous speeches by President Obama, demarcating them into the six elements of a Euclidean proposition. “Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and the Structure of Reason”, published by Savas Beatie. This book will be out shortly in eBook format.
        Dan Van Haften

  6. 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”.

    1. 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.

        1. Hi Dan. I knew that you would, of course, be familiar with the story but found it so interesting that I figured other readers would as well. I am looking forward to reading your book.

        2. John,
          Our new book, “Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and the Structure of Reason”, was just released our publisher, Savas Beatie. This book shows how President Obama is using Lincoln’s Euclidean system to structure his speeches. The book is currently available as an eBook on Kindle and iBook, and soon will be available on the other digital platforms.

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. For a little more information on slavery and abolitionism, I would like to point out that this speech and the Civil War would not have been necessary if the founding fathers had not removed the abolition of slavery from the Declaration of Independence. Not many people know that the Declaration was delayed because certain signers would not sign until the abolition of slavery was removed from the writing. Sad, but true.

        Hope this helps a little,

        T. McKean

        1. Hi Terri. Thanks for sharing that bit of history. I did not that about the Declaration of Independence. Do you happen to know which founding fathers held out until the provision was removed?

  8. 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.

    1. 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

  9. 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.

    1. 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!

      1. 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

        1. 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!!!!!

        2. 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!

  10. 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!

    1. 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.)

  11. 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.

    1. 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,

  12. 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.

    1. 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,

  13. Dear John,
    Thank you so much for this detailed information. It really helped on my English assignment. 🙂

    1. 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!

  14. 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.

    1. 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.

  15. 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.

    1. 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

    1. 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

  16. 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. 🙁

    1. 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 Google other blogs that have analyzed the Gettysburg Address.
      Good luck.

      1. 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!

        1. 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.

  17. 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.

    1. 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

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

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  18. 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!!

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

    1. 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.

  20. 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?

    1. 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.

  21. 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?

    1. 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!

  22. John,

    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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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 unquestionably an eloquent and inspiring piece of writing.

      1. Dear John,

        You are to be congratulated for your measured response. My draft included a “candidature for caricature in literature causing discomfiture” rhyming device. Taking a quick look at both modern and archaic definitions, I think the Gettysburg Address does, probably clearly so, qualify as literature. Brevity can be the soul of both wit and literature. Especially, when it is written in granite. That suggests an enduring tome. You are a gentleman and, obviously, a very good and patient teacher. Nice to see some of your writing, again. Even when it comes from being asked to prove that which you had not even raised.


        Andy. That attorney out West.

        1. Hi Andy,

          Thanks for the comment. I admire your abilities as a wordsmith. And, I take your point about the Gettysburg Address qualifying as literature. If a poem of a few stanzas can qualify as literature, I see no reason why an eloquent speech cannot so qualify as well.

    2. If anyone were to give that speech today, they probably would be accused of “inciting the people to rebel against what is “now here”. History has it that Lincoln did not go further than the 2nd grade in school; so what does that say about the billions we spend on education today, when probably none could write a better speech?

  23. 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.

    1. what does of the people, by the people, for the people mean in the gettysburg address
      sorry i will not give my real name or e-mail
      this is for John Zimmer

      1. Thanks for the question and no problem about remaining anonymous.

        “Of the people” means that the government is made up of people from the country. Americans choose their representatives from among themselves. “By the people” means that it is the American people themselves who choose their government. “For the people” means that it is the job of the government to govern in the best interests of the people.

        I hope this helps.

  24. John do you know when you wrote this blog because I need it to cite your blog. Thanks.
    P.S. VERY useful info, thanks.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Glad you found the information useful. I wrote the post on 19 November 2010. You can find the date for any post that I wrote by clicking on the URL. WordPress always has the date of publication in the full URL. Cheers!

  25. This has been very helpful. On it’s anniversary I’m planning on releasing a series of memes based on the Gettysburg Address that will hopefully symbolize and analogize our current political environment and I believe this analysis will help me greatly with both the wording and the imagery. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you found the post helpful. Good luck with your project. Please come back and leave another comment with the link so that readers and I can check it out.

  26. Hello Dan!

    When it comes to passing the time there’s nothing quite like reading a wonderfully written analysis on one of my favourite historical speeches of all time. I have to say I’m actually really thankful for this, it’s just so interesting and not just the article itself. I’ve been reading through the comments and I’ve actually learnt quite a bit more about this speech and it’s historical significance from all of the analysis readers as well as you, Mr. Zimmer.

    Who’d have known that history and literature could be so interesting? I’ll also be checking out that book mentioned in the comments. Sounds like a worthy read. Plus all these helpful points on presenting speeches will definitely come in handy down the road. xD Thanks for all the information!

    This is why I love checking the comment sections of articles with interesting topics. Hm, I feel like I’ve been using the word ‘interesting’ a lot. What’s a synonym for that? Intriguing, perhaps? Well, anyway… Well done, sir! Great job! I’ve never been so glad to have decided to procrastinate my studies and search the web for historical speech articles for no reason! It was worth the lost time. xD

    From Sasha, the Procrastination Queen aka the Terrible 11th Grader Who Needs To Get To Work Right Away!

    P.S. I love your website’s layout! xD

    1. Hi Sasha. Thanks for the great comment. I love the stream-of-consciousness flow to it and I am glad that you found the post helpful. I agree with you about finding interesting ideas and information in the comments. That’s one of the things that I enjoy about writing and reading blogs.

      Good luck with your studies and remember to give them at least equal time with this blog! 😉

  27. John – I really appreciate and admire your clear thinking, analysis, and articulateness.

    As always, super work, well done, thank you.

    WatchMojo also placed this speech at the top of its list of “Top 10 Famous Speeches”. (
    If anyone is interested in using a “Memory Palace” technique to memorize the Gettysburg Address in 1-hour, this article may help.
    Keep up your awesome work.

    1. Thanks so much, Rashid. The post on the Gettysburg Address, which I wrote years ago, is still my No. 1 performing post in terms of hits. On an average week, it will be No. 1 four or five days out of seven. I often get messages from students in high school and college saying how it helped them with an assignment.

      I will read your post with interest. I have seen the montage of different speakers before. It’s a shame that Bill O’Reilly is there! But it is very good. As for the memory palace, we should talk about memory techniques some time. I have been using one for years to remember lists but also to remember parts of a speech.

      1. Thanks John. Interesting to note that this is your most popular post. But not surprising. Again, your analysis is superb, your articulation outstanding.

        Will be happy to talk about memory techniques some time. Please feel free to suggest options and dates/times.
        Side note. I have a 45 minutes (private) video of an education session where I got the whole audience to memorize the speech. Even though I had to demand a lot from my audience, the talk was generally well received.

        It is a very poor quality video (made only for my review), but if you like, I can try to get it to you via Dropbox or Google drive, or a private YT link etc.

        It is a very powerful technique but it sure makes you work hard :-).

        The technique had been used for ~2K years by orators–so it obviously works.

        Good luck! Keep up your splendid work.

        1. Thanks, Rashid. I’d be interested in watching the video when I have some time.

          If it is less than 2GB, you can send it to me for free using We Transfer ( Just upload the file and send it to I use We Transfer all the time.

          And yes, when my schedule eases up, I will look into possible dates to speak about memory techniques.

    1. Thank you, Dan. I have been so busy with work of late that I have not been on the blog that much. This will change and yes, I will always respond to people who take the time to comment.

    1. Interesting question. I think that there are some euphemisms in the speech:

      – “final resting place” for “cemetery”
      – “gave their lives” for “died”
      – “gave the last full measure of devotion” also for “died”

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International