Did President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address contain parallelism?

President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address does contain parallelism. As well as the more direct examples of parallelism, implied parallelism is used when Lincoln says "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here..." Had Lincoln used direct parallelism here, he would've said "The world will little note what we say here, nor long remember what we say here," but he uses the shorter version for concision.

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There are many examples of parallelism in Abraham Lincoln's short speech. Parallelism is the repetition of the same grammatical structure in a work of writing.

Some examples of parallelism include the following. In the statement below, the repeated phrase "we cannot" helps convey the way words ultimately fail to...

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There are many examples of parallelism in Abraham Lincoln's short speech. Parallelism is the repetition of the same grammatical structure in a work of writing.

Some examples of parallelism include the following. In the statement below, the repeated phrase "we cannot" helps convey the way words ultimately fail to express the full meaning of what has happened at this battle:

we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground.

Parallelism can be seen below in the repeated "it is for us" structure. The insertion of "rather" adds some interest to the parallelism:

It is for us. . .it is rather for us

In the famous ending of the speech, parallelism helps makes it memorable:

government of the people, by the people, for the people ...

The repetition of the phrase "the people" emphasizes that the United States is a democracy. It was a radical experiment in governance for that time period and one that, Lincoln wants to emphasize, is worth preserving.

Lincoln put his 272-word address through five revisions before he was satisfied with his writing. He knew the Battle of Gettysburg was a momentous occasion, both because of the large number of lives lost and because the Confederate army had been badly beaten. He knew the importance both of commemorating the dead and of stiffening Union resolve to not give up on the fight to preserve the nation. Both of these sentiments are expressed in a heartfelt way in this speech through the use of parallelism.

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There are numerous examples of parallelism in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, but the one that catches the eye is an instance of implied parallelism. In a famous line from his speech, Lincoln says "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here..." This is an example of implied parallelism because the structures of the two sentences in question aren't exactly parallel in form, but most certainly are in substance.

If Lincoln had spoken these words using direct parallelism he would've said the following:

The world will little note what we say here, nor long remember what we say here...

The phrase "what we say here" is used in both sentences, providing a clear parallel between them. But Lincoln chooses to omit these words in the first sentence to make this part of his speech more elegant and concise. If one reads the two versions aloud, one can immediately see the wisdom of this. The text as Lincoln actually said it flows much more smoothly with only one "what we say here."

By using parallelism this way, Lincoln is drawing his audience's attention to the relative unimportance of his speech by comparison with the heroic, noble sacrifices made by so many men on the battlefields of Gettysburg and elsewhere. The supreme sacrifice that they made is far more eloquent than any words can possibly be, even those spoken by a great orator like Lincoln.

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Parallelism is an umbrella term for various rhetorical devices often employed by orators to make their words easier to process and more memorable. Reread my previous sentence: it does not contain parallelism. To introduce parallelism, I might have said " . . . to make their words easier to process and to remember." Parallelism involves the repetition of grammatical structures in multiple clauses of a sentence to create a sense of internal cohesion. Examples of parallelism found in Lincoln's Gettysburg address also include:

Epistrophe: repeating the same word at the end of multiple phrases, as in "of the people, by the people, for the people . . . "

Anaphora: repeating a set of words at the beginning of multiple successive phrases, as in "we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow . . . "

Antithesis: a balanced sentence or statement wherein the second part serves almost to contradict the thrust of the first half, thus emphasizing it, as in "the world will little note what we say here . . . but it can never forget what they did here." This sentence also includes epistrophe

Climax: an arrangement of a number of statements of similar structure, in order of increasing importance, as in "that from the honoured dead . . . that we here highly resolve . . . that this nation under God . . . and that government of the people . . . "

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The concept of parallelism means that a work is written using balanced and equal construction which aids in the understanding of the overall message. Yes, Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" contains many examples of parallelism. Lincoln possessed great skill in crafting his words to create emphasis of the key points presented within this short but dynamic speech. Some powerful examples of parallelism include the following:

  • a new nation, that nation, any nation
  • that nation, that war, that field, that nation
  • we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow
  • shall not have died in vain, shall have a new birth, shall not parish from the earth
  • of the people, by the people, for the people

Lincoln used a technique more recently described as the "power of three" within this piece. In the article "How to Use the Rule of Three in Your Speeches", Andrew Dlugan emphasis the power of using this technique to help "express concepts more completely, emphasize your points, and increase the memorability or your message."

History has shown that the "Gettysburg Address" is truly a memorable speech. The parallel structure within it creates a balanced and unified theme which aids in our understanding of his remarkable message.

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Yes, there are examples of parallelism in Abraham Lincoln’s, “Gettysburg Address” which emphasize and accentuate the main ideas in his short but memorable speech. These words and phrases add balance to the writing.

Examples of parallelism include:

  1. a new nation, that nation, any nation

  2. conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition, so conceived and so dedicated

  3. we are engaged, we are met

  4. that nation, that war, that field, that nation

  5. we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow

  6. who struggled here, who fought here

  7. what we say here, what they did here

  8. to be dedicated here, to be here dedicated

  9. shall not have died in vain, shall have a new birth, shall not perish from the earth

  10. of the people, by the people, for the people

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