The Gettysburg Address was a speech meant to give the Union, the Northern United States in the U.S. Civil War, a unified purpose. Lincoln was brief and to the point, but his words were memorable and remarkably powerful, especially in his closing sentences. Since the Civil War, the Address has been considered one of the most important and best of all speeches in American history. His words that day were few, but they were so poignant and moving that the Address unified the Northern troops to a singular cause.
The Confederacy to the South was showing signs of inevitable defeat. With major victories in both the North at Gettysburg and in the South at Vicksburg by the Union, Lincoln had a tremendous chance to enhance the positive outcomes of these engagements. Therefore, he stated what the ultimate goal of the War should be, to restore the Union and prove that the American experiment of democracy would not fail.
The nation had become so divided over a period spanning three decades and had been so incredibly foreshadowed by the final words of the radical abolitionist John Brown, that division could only be overcome through bloodshed. Though not tremendously popular at the time, President Lincoln saw that a turning point in the War had been reached and that the North needed to rally for the victory that was on the horizon. The Gettysburg Address dedicated a part of that battlefield to the cause of restoring the Union, a powerful reminder of what the Northern troops were really fighting for.
Ironically, Lincoln said in his Address that the words spoken that day would not be long remembered. “The world will little note,” Lincoln said, “nor long remember what we say here.” In fact, it would be his own words that would be remembered so fondly and immortalized. He was absolutely correct, however, that the events of Gettysburg would always be remembered. It was, in fact, a great turning point in the War for the Union.
The engagement at Gettysburg was one of the bloodiest battles of all. Still, the Union stood victorious in that horrible but very decisive conflict, and it was the perfect place for the nation’s leader to rally everyone. The cause was not just the soldiers’ to fight for, but it was the cause that all loyal Americans were to fight for as well.
The very beginning of his speech is quite recognizable to many Americans today. “Four score and seven years ago,” Lincoln began, “our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln began with this reminder of America’s founding principles to make people remember what the Union truly stands for.
It was a poignant introduction, just to mention the forefathers foreshadowed the importance of the message still to come. The matter was that America indeed was not living up to that ideal at all. In a nation of freedom for all men, there were millions enslaved within it just because they were of a different race. Some had come to justify the African Americans as an inferior race that was not capable of self government and that they were meant to be enslaved.
Lincoln declared that the Civil War was a test to see if democracy could truly thrive. “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation so conceived and so dedicated, can endure.” His point was clear: the survival of the Union was imperative and paramount. Lincoln then said that the dedication of the land was not to only be to the honored dead, but also to the “unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
The North, the majority of the nation, had to make sure that the minority could not just secede because they did not want to follow the rest of the nation. A nation divided could not stand, just as Lincoln had said years before about the division in the House of Representatives. Fortunately for Lincoln, the Union still had four slave states loyal to the union, and the North had the power to defeat the South. But the war was dragging on. Lincoln’s words brought focus to the Union cause. The so-called “appropriate remarks” he was supposed to make that day were truly appropriate and then some.
As the President and commander-in-chief of the United States of America, Lincoln knew that it was his place, as well as his solemn duty to which he so swore, to see that the Union survived. He knew that the dedication of this battlefield could be far more than a memorial, but also an opportunity to rally the troops and give them a unified cause to fight for. That cause was not namely slavery. It was the restoration and survival of the Union and the principles for which it stood. Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “We have come here to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that the nation might live.”
Lincoln called out to the American people to “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain” and to continue fighting not only in their memory but for the cause they had served as well. He declared that America, “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that gift of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
With the many revolutions toward democracies that were happening at the time, Lincoln greatly believed that America should serve as a guiding light for those new democracies around the globe. He knew that America needed to serve as a positive example for all those attempting what America had done nearly a century before.
By late 1863, so much blood had already been shed that it was imperative that America become reunited, but not only for America’s own sake, but for the world’s. America, with the “city on a hill” idea still a very important part of American culture, was to be an example that democracy could truly flourish and remain united. Slavery was no longer the word that defined the war. The true crisis at hand was that democracy was failing, and Lincoln was doing everything in his power to see that it did not die.
While it would take another year and a half to end the Civil War, the Union would indeed be preserved. It was with permanent scars on both sides, but America was once again united. While the Union was indeed on its way by the time the Battle of Gettysburg was over, the Gettysburg Address gave the Union a tremendous morale boost from their leader, President Abraham Lincoln.