Gettysburg Address Anniversary: Why This Speech Matters

Jeanne Sager
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Abraham LincolnThe Gettysburg Address is seven score and seven years old today! OK, we'll cut the geek speak. It was 147 years ago today that President Abraham Lincoln stood in a military cemetery and delivered a 272-word speech about why we needed to stay in the Civil War and win.

Lincoln should be sending special gifts to elementary school teachers from the great beyond today because we still quote him.

We don't know all 272 words. Just "Fourscore 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." But that's not bad for 147 years later, is it?

I can't even remember where I put my keys. Then again, my third grade teacher didn't make me repeat the location of my keys in front of a classroom of bored kids for a grade and Twizzler (or was it a Milky Way?).

Every time President Obama decides to give a big speech, the major networks make way, and the blogosphere rehashes it all. But nobody remembers a word he said five weeks later. That's no mark on our sitting president. I can't quote a George H.W. Bush speech off the top of my head either. And the first Bill Clinton quote that comes to mind is from his testimony in front of the Starr Grand Jury.

There were no networks or bloggers on a windy day in November 1863, but we've got Lincoln on the brain in 2010. But we've always had teachers. And you can thank Lincoln for ensuring we have them there for every kid in America. After all, as he said -- "all" men are created equal.

It's thanks to him that I'm willing to bet you'll recognize these words too:

1. "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."

2. "Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle hardened. He will fight savagely."

3. "Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."

4. "The question facing us today is: Now that we are in the war, what is the best way to end it?"

5. "A President's hardest task is not to do what is right, but to know what is right."

Any of them? Here are the answers:

1. John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address. It's thanks to a children's book being released next month (and sent to The Stir) that I know those words were spoken nearly 50 years ago in January 1961.

2. Dwight D. Eisenhower. D-Day Message. June 6, 1944.

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Pearl Harbor Address. December 8, 1941.

4. Richard M. Nixon. The Great Silent Majority Speech. November 3, 1969.

5. Lyndon B. Johnson. State of the Union. January 4, 1965.

If you knew any of them, thank a teacher. Then thank Lincoln. His speech was short. But it made a world of difference.

 

Image via Believe Collective/Flickr

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