Lincoln's Gettysburg Address a powerful second act : author

Tue Nov 19, 2013 3:50pm EST
 
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By Jeffrey B. Roth

GETTYSBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - As Americans on Tuesday mark the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, which remains one of the best-known pieces of political oratory in the nation's history, many will likely overlook one small but important detail.

Neither President Abraham Lincoln nor his listeners regarded the 272-word tribute to the soldiers who died at the pivotal battle of the U.S. Civil War, famously beginning "Four score and seven years ago," as the main event on November 19, 1863.

Lincoln's remarks were meant to be a second act.

The focus of the 15,000 spectators crowded onto what four months earlier had been the site of the Civil War's bloodiest battle was on Massachusetts orator Edward Everett. His 13,607-word speech described the importance of the battle and consecrated the site.

Proof of the importance the event's organizers placed on Everett, a former Massachusetts governor and senator, is the fact that they delayed the ceremony by several weeks to ensure he could attend, said Allen Guelzo, a professor of Civil War-era studies at Gettysburg College and author of "Gettysburg: The Last Invasion."

Lincoln was formally invited only two weeks before the ceremony.

"Lincoln never called it the Gettysburg Address," Guelzo said. "Lincoln ... provided the actual dedication address of the cemetery. (But) Everett did the big oration explaining everything."

However, it was Lincoln's two-minute speech, calling for national unity, that stood the test of time.   Continued...

 
A re-enactor portraying former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln applauds a military band while being welcomed at the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania train station November 18, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron