The Gettysburg Address

by Abraham Lincoln

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In the Gettysburg Address, how does the word consecrate define dedicated in its second and third uses?

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In the Gettysburg Address, the word consecrate plays a very important role in defining dedicated the second time is it used by Abraham Lincoln. It gives the word dedicated an almost religious meaning, so much so that it communicates that only those men who've died in the Civil War can truly consecrate the ground in which they are buried.

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In one line of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln uses the words dedicated and consecrated almost synonymously. He says, "But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate ... this ground."

And yet the two words have quite different connotations. To consecrate means to make something sacred. It therefore has a religious meaning that adds to the solemnity of the proceedings at which Lincoln made his most famous speech. Dedicate, on the other hand, can be used in both a secular and a religious context.

However, Lincoln yokes these words together in order to drive home the point to his audience that they cannot do either of these things, as the dedication and consecration of the land on which they are standing have already been carried out by the brave men who fought and died upon it.

Whether intentionally or not, Lincoln has given the word dedicated a quasi-religious meaning derived from consecrated. Because of this, those present at this momentous occasion, including Lincoln himself, are unable to say anything that could possibly add to or detract from the enormous sacrifice made by the Union dead.

They can neither consecrate nor dedicate, as these actions have already been taken by the dead soldiers themselves. This explains why the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in history, is so incredibly short. Most of what needs to be said has been said already by the men who died fighting for the Union.

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