The speeches of Abraham Lincoln give a good picture of that great leader in his own words and open a window onto another historical era. Some of these speeches are well-known, while others are less often read. Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" is one of the most famous speeches in American history, learned by heart by many schoolchildren, with phrases that have rung down through the ages, though the precise circumstances of the speech may not be so well known. The speech is not merely of historical importance but also serves as a prime example of rhetorical structure in spite of the fact that it was probably "dashed off" by its author almost as an afterthought because of the need to make a speech at a certain place for a specific occasion. Of course, the Civil War divided the country literally, with North against South, brother against brother. Lincoln was very much a symbol of the Civil War to both sides, a symbol of strength and determination to the North, and a symbol of perfidy and betrayal to the South.
Abraham Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg reflected a number of concerns and attitudes Lincoln had shown throughout his life. The details of Lincoln's life in general terms are well known--how he was born in a log cabin on the frontier, how he walked five miles to school every day, how he dedicated himself to learning, how he became an attorney, how he entered politics and eventually became president of the United States. When Lincoln came to office, it was at a time of tension in the body politic as conflict between the North and the South was increasing to such a degree that a split seemed to be in the offing.
Lincoln carried through his idea of a spiritual intervention in the affairs of men again and again in his speeches and writings, and he saw in the war between North and South an image of sacrificial death and rebirth that would become the central metaphor in the Gettysburg Address.
The speech was de...