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

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.


jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"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.