The Gettysburg Address

by Abraham Lincoln
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How do Lincoln's word choice and use of pronouns in paragraphs 1 and 3 of The Gettysburg Address influence the audience?

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In the first paragraph of the Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln refers to “us” by talking about “our fathers” as the men who created the “new nation.” In the third paragraph, he repeatedly refers to the audience as “we” and “us,” with fewer mentions of “they” and “them.” The overall emphasis is on the collectivity, which includes both the people who are physically present at the ceremony—both the speakers and the audience—and all the American people.

In the address overall, Lincoln uses “we” or “us” about a dozen times. In paragraph 3, the contrast between the living and the dead, the survivors and the self-sacrificed, is strong and consistent. He emphasizes that what “we” have done so far and are doing now—dedicating a cemetery—pales in comparison to all that “they” have given. He contrasts “our poor power” to what “they...have nobly advanced.” Similarly, he contrasts our forgettable words to their memorable deeds:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

He then draws a more positive parallel between their devotion and ours as a way to encourage those present to take up their noble project with devotion that, he hopes, can be equal to theirs. From them,

we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion....

All of this focus on the collective subject helps him build up to the strong closing, in which he says what they must be committed to doing, which is to ensure that their death had meaning and that the country itself does not die.

[W]e here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation...shall not perish from the earth.

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