Choir Notes

Remember the Gettysburg Address
From Music and the Spoken Word
Delivered By: Lloyd D. Newell • Program 4391

It was only a two-minute speech, given 150 years ago, but as long as freedom is prized and those who fight for it are honored, it will never be forgotten. It was given on a rural battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the deadliest battle of the Civil War.

It was in this setting that President Abraham Lincoln traveled by train to help dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery on that 19th day of November 1863 before a crowd of 15,000 people. First on the program was the famous orator Edward Everett, a well-known former senator, governor, and president of Harvard. To thunderous applause, he spoke with a strong and authoritative voice for two hours.

Then, in sharp contrast, Lincoln raised what one reporter called his “sharp, unmusical treble voice” and began: Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. In fewer than 300 words, he exhorted all to remember those who gave the last full measure of devotion for the nation; he spoke of a new birth of freedom, under God, that would bring true equality; and he said that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. The president finished his speech before a photographer could even set up his tripod and uncap the lens, before the crowd “realized he was fairly launched on what he had to say.” An observer noted the “almost shocking brevity” of the speech, and the initial response was underwhelming.

And yet, while the two-hour sermon that preceded him has largely been forgotten, the timeless truths Lincoln spoke that day persist in our memory and our way of life. There was, however, one statement he made in that short speech has proven not to be true. He said, “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here.” To the contrary, 150 years later, we still remember and even commit to memory the Gettysburg Address. More important, we live the spirit of those stirring words as we honor those who uphold liberty and join in what Lincoln called the “unfinished work” of unity, equality, and freedom.

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