Long Remembered

The new American history blog Almost Chosen People reminds us that today is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Addess, delivered on Nov. 19th, 1863. The Gettysburg Address stands unique, to my knowledge, in the American branch of the English-speaking world as the only speech by a political leader which is widely memorized and quoted in its entirety long after the fact. There are some isolated famous sections of speeches by FDR, JFK and Martin Luther King which are widely remembered, but unless anyone else can think of anything I’m completely forgetting, the Gettysburg Address is uniquely treated as a piece of rhetoric which is remembered and memorized in its entirity. (I still recall it nearly word for word, having memorized it in fifth grade.) Indeed, the only other similarly treated piece of oratory I can think of is the (fictional) Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve 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.

From our international readers, I’m curious: What pieces of oratory are similarly remembered in the British-English world, or in other non-English-speaking countries?

4 Responses to Long Remembered

  • I’m not a foreign reader but I can’t imagine there’s not a lot of Churchill’s orations remembered.

  • I was wondering about that. Certainly, there are bunch of Churchill quotes I can recall, but most of them are only a phrase or a sentence. I’m wondering if there are any whole speeches that are memorized routinely the way the Gettysburg Address is.

  • Lincoln has the advantage that this speech is short and, therefore, more easily memorizable. Senator Edwin Everett was actually the featured speaker that day and he spoke for several hours.

  • It’s true that the Gettysburg Address has the advantage of being short; but it also, as Everett himself said, captured the cental point of the occasion, and of the war itself, much better than Everett’s 2-3 hour speech.
    The Civil War was a defining event in American history – almost a second founding of the nation – at least, that seems to be how we’ve seen it – so the Gettysburg Address is sort of up there with the Declaration of Independence (first two paragraphs) as an idealistic, but grounded, manifesto of what the United States was all about. That quality of summing up what we believe we’re all about – or supposed to be all about – makes it memorable, as much as the mastery of languange, or even the brevity.

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