1863 - 2013

Inspired by the Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

“government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Abraham Lincoln / November 19, 1863

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln stood on a makeshift platform at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  Six score and nine days earlier, the largest battle ever waged on the North American continent came to a close after three days of fighting.  Invited to dedicate a new national cemetery with a “few appropriate remarks” after Edward Everett’s main oration, President Lincoln captured the meaning of the American Civil War.  In the century and a half since he delivered those few remarks, they have continually inspired admiration and reflection.

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (Edward Everett Copy)
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (Edward Everett Copy)

In 1913, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Civil War veteran George B. Fairhead of New York penned poetic acrostics using the words “Gettysburg” and “Abraham Lincoln” to celebrate sectional reunion.

Nathaniel Chasin, a Russian immigrant living in Washington, DC, used the words of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s biography to create a calligraphic portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 1926.  The words of the Gettysburg Address form Lincoln's hair and beard.

This print from a 1938 painting by Fletcher C. Ransom of Chicago, entitled “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” offers an image of Lincoln delivering his famous address.

In 1943, Illinois Governor Dwight Green appealed to children from across the state to donate pennies and nickels to raise the $60,000 necessary to purchase the Edward Everett Copy of the Gettysburg Address.  

After schoolchildren contributed more than $50,000, Chicago businessman and philanthropist Marshall Field IIII donated the remainder.

On March 24, 1944, the Illinois State Historical Library officially received the copy on behalf of the State of Illinois.  

This copy, one of only five written by Abraham Lincoln, now resides at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, in Springfield, Illinois.

Schoolchildren in Lincoln, Illinois, view the Everett Copy of the Gettysburg Address, October 13, 1943.

As the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address approached, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation invited individuals to write an essay of 272 words on Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, or something about which they are passionate.

The following samples are just a few of the essays written by a wide variety of individuals.

President Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States and Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize
Julian Bond, Civil Rights Activist and former Chairman, NAACP

In the 150th anniversary year of the Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation, thoughts turn toward Abraham Lincoln's presence in our lives.

     Only my father's generation stands between Julian Bond and human bondage.  I am the grandson of a slave.  He and his mother were property, like a horse or a chair.  As a girl, she had been given to a new bride.  When that bride became pregnant, her husband exercised his owner's right to take his wife's slave as his mistress.

     That union produced two children, one of them my grandfather.

     At 15, barely able to read and write, he hitched his tuition---a steere---to a rope and walked acrosse Kentuck to Berea College.

     His was a transcendent of black Americans, born in slavery, freed by Abraham Lincoln, determined to make their way in freedom.

     When he graduated, the college asked him to deliver the commencement address.

     He said:

     “The pessimest from his corner looks out on the world of wickedness and sin, and blinded by all that is good or hopeful in the condition and progress of the human race, bewails the present state of affairs and predicts woeful things for the future.

     ”In every cloud he beholds a destructive storm, in every shadow that falls across his path a lurking foe.

     “He forgets that the clouds also bring life hope, that lightning purifies the atmosphere, that shadow and darkness prepare for sunshine and growth, and that hardship and adversity nerve the race, as the individual, for greater efforts and grander victories.”

     Here's to greater efforts and grander victories.

Nikki Giovanni, Poet
Judge Judith Sheindlin, "Judge Judy"

Over a million Americans have given their lives in defense of the principles which form the foundation of this great country.  The question to be asked is whether their sacrifice created the country envisioned by our forefathers and where do we go from here?

This country is only as strong as our next generation.  Unless we demand from ourselves and our children responsible behavior as citizens of their communities, cities, states and the United States, the greatness that is America will be lost.  Finger painting and excuses for irresponsible behavior have created a generation of people who either never heard the words of JFK or choose to redefine them.  The words were simple...“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country.”

The freedoms we enjoy in this country are unrivaled by any other, and the dreams of our children are limited only by a lack of hard work and dedication.  We must demand the best effort from ourselves and our children.

We must demand the best from our government, never forgetting that the government works for us and not the other way around.

We must demand the best from our elected representatives, selecting only the most talented among us to speak for us in the halls of government.  If we select mediocrity, we will get what we deserve, and those hundreds of thousands of soldiers will have died for a mediocre country.  A great America means demanding the best from every American who enjoys this wonderful country.  Only then, the spirit and sacrifice of those soldiers will be truly honored.

                                                                                       Judith Sheindlin “Judge Judy”

Douglas R. Oberhelman, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Caterpillar Corporation

Leadership can be very difficult and the most rewarding experience.  When you stand up for what you believe in, you ruffle some feathers.  Today as a country, we can't seem to agree on anything---it's Republicans versus Democrats, business versus government, and state versus state.  We think our problems are just too big and nothing can be done.  We can't make everyone happy with each critical decision, so instead we do nothing.  But sometimes we need to step back and look how far we've come.  We need to look back at a leader whose situation had to seem insurmountable.  Our country was truly divided one hundred and fifty years ago.  We were literally at war with each other and battling for something that is at our very core as Americans---freedom.  We are a great country today because President Lincoln stood up for what's right.  At the time, half the country hated him.  Half the country so violently disagreed with him, that they literally put their lives on the line to fight aginst what he believed.  But he was steadfast.

     Today he is one of the most beloved leaders in our country's history---he's certainly my favorite here in Illinois.

     Today, in 2013, I'd like all leaders to remember what President Lincoln's leadership provided all Americans and what other countries dream about.  Be Brave. Stand up for what's right.  We need leaders who can make the tough decisions with integrity.  We can't make everyone happy, but we can make a difference.  We can continue to build on Lincoln's legacy and make our state and country great for years to come.

                                                                          Doug Oberhelman

Dr. Richard Carwardine, President, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, United Kingdom


Seven score and ten years ago, in dedicating the American nation to a new birth of freedom, I declared, as President, that “the world will little note nor long remember what we say here.”  I now acknowledge, at the bar of history, that I was wrong.  My address at Gettysburg---honoring government of, by, and for the people, and reasserting the principles of liberty and equality at work in the Emancipation Proclamation---did not fade from public memory, but lived on to inspire progressive forces everywhere, abroad as well as at home.  Our struggle was their struggle.  Even while I lived, those words at Gettysburg found foreign favor.  An Oxford professor, I learnt, had urged British readers to honor the text and its claims.  Karl Marx told me that our titanic struggle would shape the destiny of Europe.  On that continent, for a century and more after my death, the phrases of Gettysburg entered the language of democrats, radicals and republicans of, amongst others, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as the Austro-Hungarian and Soviet empires.  These same cadences have sweetened the political language of hope in Argentina, Brazil, and other parts of Latin America; in Japan, China, and the wider Asia; and for Ghanians and other Africans throwing off colonial rule.  I do not claim that my words controlled these events but I rejoice that they still inspire those whose belief in human equality makes them strive for freedom and self-government.  This influence cheers this former young man of New Salem, who once mistakenly expressed the unhappy thought “that when we die that is the last of us.”  A.L.

                                                                   Richard Carwardine

Billy Collins, Former Poet Laureate of the United States

On a Poem by Lincoln: “My Childhood Home I See Again”

In poetry, too, he spoke,

even invoking memory with an O!

before remembering his childhood home

whose hollow rooms he rhymes with tombs

in one of a stack of quatrains

whose a-b-a-b scheme locks in its plangent sounds.

Coventional also is his opening theme

as old as the Latin ubi sunt

where are they now, the lost and absent things?

unanswerable question we still must ask

while brooding over flowers long gone

or the snows of yesteryear.

The ones who follow poetry---

and some tail it like a private eye

through a maze of city streets---

have heard of poems that find their subjects

as they go along, exiting the sitting room

to discover a door in the dark behind the pantry stairs

Well, here a president shows the way,

leaving the wide path nostalgic

to face the face of a howling crazy man.

Not O, Memory now, but Poor Matthew!

Poor Matthew! once a childhood friend

who became deranged, a man of frightening strength

from whom the neighbors ran

and whose limbs were fast confined.

An object more of dread, writes Honest Abe,

than ought the grave contains.

So behold Lincoln near the end of his verses

alone before down in some outdoor scene

Standing in a dew of angel tears,

listening to his memory of what that man sang

when he could no longer shriek or howl.

Imagine now behind the veil of his address

this other Lincoln, cheerless and terrified

by the packed bag of reason fleeing

and behind the public cadence of the podium

the private man, alone save

for the rhymes and common meter of his poem.

                                        Billy Collins

Sergeant Allen J. Lynch, US Army (retired) and Recipient of the Medal of Honor

In two hundred seventy-two words Lincoln's Gettysburg Address speaks to the conscience of America. A war weary Lincoln draws from the Declaration of Independence, which states, “We Hold These Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” We are a Nation founded upon the principles of Liberty and Equality. 

     Dedicating the cemetery for all those who fought there, Lincoln reminds us that they were in the service of our nation. We all benefit from the sacrifices of those in uniform. They like our founding Fathers, have pledged their Lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to the defense of our Freedom. Lincoln states the work of those who died at Gettysburg is not complete, nor will it ever be completed. He calls on Americans to complete the unfinished work not only of maintaining the Union but also our founding principles of Liberty and equality. These are National principles worth defending with our lives; principles well worth enduring great hardship to advance. 

     Lincoln inspires us to ensure that those who, “gave their last full measure of devotion...shall not have died in vain.” It is for us who remain to pledge, “that this nation---under God, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln ends with a reference to God just as the Declaration of Independence declares that our Equality and Liberty---our unalienable rights---are not given to us by men,---for men can take away what they give, but are given by our Creator. 

                                                                      Allen J. Lynch

Karen B. Winnick, Children’s Book Author and Illustrator

Abraham Lincoln listened and learned from everything that happened to him.  In his pocket he kept a small notebook where he jotted down his thoughts, scribbled ideas, and tucked in between its pages newspaper clippings that spoke to the problems of the day and the issues on his mind.  Lincoln struggled to overcome the racism of the era to which he was born.  He worked hard to achieve understanding and grow into a better human being.

     In an era when children's voices were often discounted, Lincoln was humble enough to pay attention to what they thought and to what they had to say.  When eleven-year-old Grace Bedell wrote to suggest he grow whiskers for he would look better and “then he would be President,” Lincoln thanked her for her suggestion.  And he took her advice!  On his way to his inauguration he had his train stop in Westfield, N.Y. where Grace lived, to show her his whiskers and ask, “How do you like the improvement you advised me to make?”

     On many mornings citizens came to the White House to seek Lincoln's help.  He listened closely to young Hannah Slater, who came without her parents' knowledge to ask Lincoln to save her wounded father's job in a commissary.  Years later she remembered “the big-hearted, sympathetic man, burdened by affairs of state, beset by hundreds of people, as he sat patiently, unhurriedly, listening to the story of a little girl.”

     Because he was always willing to listen and learn and because he understood that wisdom often came from unexpected places, Abraham Lincoln grew into the extraordinary man and the great President we remember today.

                                                                                 Karen B. Winnick

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google
Pete Seeger, Folk Singer

                          Aug 13, 2013

Dear friends at the ALPLF--

     Since on Nov. 19 it will be 150 years since old Abe gave the Gettysburg Address, I try to get people to memorize it.

     Written out as 10 sentences and 4 clauses it's much easier to to memorize than the way it's usually printed, in 2 or 3 paragraphs.

     I'm curious to know what you think of it.  I'm sorry I cannot visit you in person.  But at age 94 my travelling days are over.


                              Pete Seeger

Credits: Story

Text and Transcriptions — Daniel W. Stowell, Director and Editor, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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