The Gettysburg Address

by Abraham Lincoln

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What is the tone of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address?

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Lincoln's speech "The Gettysburg Address" began with a serious assessment of the war and acknowledgment of the death and suffering caused by the battle. It also called for unity in the nation. Although the speech began as a somber reminder of the tragedy of war, it ended in an upbeat call for reconciliation.

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Lincoln's brief but powerful address at Gettysburg in 1863 has a reverent, humble, and fervent tone. As Lincoln begins the speech, he refers to the founding fathers and references the founding document, the Declaration of Independence. He shows reverence for these men and their work. Everyone in the audience would realize that the men and document started a bloody but crucial war, similar to the one that then ravaged the country.

As he moves on to discuss the then-ongoing conflict, he mentions that the stakes are high. The purpose of his speech is to dedicate a cemetery to bury those who fought and died at Gettysburg. With great reverence, he notes that he and those in attendance don't have the power to "consecrate . . . this ground." The men who shed their blood there are the ones who hallowed it. Through this first part of the address, Lincoln displays great respect for the founders, the country, and the dead soldiers.

Next, he displays his own humility and extends it to his listeners. By stating, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here," he takes the focus off himself and defers to the soldiers as the truly important people.

Toward the end of the speech, Lincoln becomes fervent as he outlines the response he hopes to gain from his listeners. He wants the citizens of the Union to stay committed to "the great task remaining before us," that is, winning the war, reuniting the country, and healing the nation's wounds. He calls for "a new birth of freedom" and invokes God as the overseer to protect the democracy in perpetuity.

Lincoln's tone of reverence, humility, and fervency conveyed the president's emotions and aptly reflected the hearts of his countrymen during those trying times.

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The "Gettysburg Address" by none other than Abraham Lincoln is very complex is in its overtones. The speech serves several purposes, and it is through these purposes that the tones are best expressed. First, it takes a somber, morose tone, because it is meant to respect the dead from the Battle of Gettysburg. Second, it is meant to be invigorating, because it is an attempt to stir up the passions and force of the Union people and soldiers to embolden them to fight harder for their cause. Finally, and perhaps most prominently, it is hopeful. Lincoln uses this speech as an opportunity to look forward at a United States that is unified and free and serves the people to the best extent possible. All of these tones are mixed well throughout its text.

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President Abraham Lincoln delivered the "Gettysburg Address" on November 19, 1863. This was in the middle of the Civil War. The occasion of the speech was the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Since this was the dedication of a memorial and burial ground of fallen soldiers, the occasion was solemn. As well as the mourning occasioned by the deaths of soldiers in the past, the mood was made even more somber by the awareness of both Lincoln and his audience that the war was still going on and that many more soldiers would die and be buried in the cemetery.

As is appropriate to such a solemn occasion, Lincoln's tone is formal and hortatory. Although Lincoln expresses sorrow for the fallen soldiers, the tone is not uniformly mournful, but rather encourages his audience to honor the soldiers' sacrifice by continuing to fight for the values for which the soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice. The conclusion of the speech shows determination and even optimism, arguing that the war should not simply be mourned but also seen as a beacon of hope, that the war was not only an emblem of death but of birth of a new political tradition, and:

that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


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"Gettysburg Address" was solemn yet hopeful. Lasting only a few minutes, it is considered one of the most eloquent speeches in American history. At the beginning of his speech, Lincoln spoke about the founding of the nation and its commitment to liberty. In the middle of the speech, he spoke about the Civil War in very brief terms, but the bulk of this short speech was dedicated to thinking about the future. Lincoln mentioned the "unfinished work" that the soldiers who fought and died at Gettysburg advanced, and he committed the country to "a new birth of freedom." As Gettysburg was the campaign that ended the Confederate advance northward in the summer of 1863, Lincoln began to look forward to the end of the war. This speech is a brief but solemn memorial to the people who died at Gettysburg and an eloquent and hopeful look at the future. 

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What is the mood of Lincoln's speech "The Gettysburg Address"?

There are a few verifiable eyewitness accounts of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. One of those accounts is found in John Hay's diary, where he describes the town's mood the night before as "boisterous with alcohol flowing freely." Though little of the record of the train trip Lincoln took to get to Gettysburg has survived, what historians do know is that Lincoln was burdened with making a speech that was both conciliatory and upbeat without denigrating the somber occasion. Lincoln almost did not go to Gettysburg, as his son, Tad, became very ill a few hours before Lincoln's departure. Lincoln had suffered the tragedy of two of his four children dying of a similar illness, and his wife was pressing him to remain in Washington to tend to his son's condition. Torn between duty to country or his family, Lincoln decided to make the trip.

While on the train, Lincoln composed several drafts of what he wanted to say, each being discarded as inadequate to the task. Witnesses described Lincoln's attitude as sullen, gloomy, and opposite of the normal jovial President they had come to know and admire even during a crisis. Arriving the night before he was to address the crowd, Lincoln spent a sleepless night writing, rewriting, and discarding draft after draft until he settled upon the final version.

The day was cloudy, and a damp chill filled the air. Lincoln arrived at Gettysburg and sat on the speaker's platform with fifteen other dignitaries. The speaker preceding Lincoln spoke for nearly two hours as the crowd listened intently and boisterously applauded Everett Edward, a well-known orator and former Secretary of State. When Everett was finished, Lincoln rose to address the crowd. Lincoln began speaking to the restless crowd, with many not knowing that he was delivering one of the most important American speeches. Witnesses say that many in the audience missed much of the address, if not all of it, as Lincoln spoke for scarcely more than two minutes.

Lincoln, torn between personal turmoil and duty to the country, speaking at a graveyard of the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, gave a sober assessment of the war. The speech's tone and mood reflected the President's desire to acknowledge the pain of the loss of hundreds of men, many leaving wives and children behind in their death. As in all things, Lincoln was honest. He encouraged unity and for his hope of the war's end. After a little more than two minutes, Lincoln would return to his seat on the platform, with many in the audience thinking that his speech was not very good. On the train ride back to his home, Lincoln himself confided in his closest advisors; he felt that he had failed. It was not until days later that the speech appeared in several newspapers across the country. The address became famous because of the seriousness of the message and the upbeat tone of encouragement.

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What is the tone of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" speech?

The purpose of the Gettysburg Address was to dedicate a Civil War battlefield. Lincoln helped put the war in a larger context—that it was a war to protect government "of the people" from "perishing from the Earth." Lincoln uses the line "of the people" to frame the war as a war to protect the Founding Fathers' view of the nation. Lincoln takes a reverential tone when he states the people gathered at Gettysburg that November afternoon could not "dedicate" or "consecrate" that land any more than the soldiers who died there the previous July. Lincoln's concise speech always keeps the focus on the soldiers buried there. Also, Lincoln does not differentiate between the Confederate and Union dead—he seems to value them both equally.  

Lincoln gave this speech at a time when, while the Confederacy was losing power, the outcome of the war was in doubt. The war had already killed hundreds of thousands of men on both sides, and many in the Union were asking if the war was worth the cost. By framing the war as a battle to maintain the Founding Fathers' view of the nation, Lincoln states the Union's success is critical.  

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