Diana Schaub on Lincoln at Gettysburg

March 25th, 2014

In National Affairs, WSPWH editor Diana Schaub reflects on the Gettysburg Address and considers its meaning. Her analysis looks at both the speech’s historical context and its literary and rhetorical devices. A snippet:

To understand the significance of the Gettysburg Address, we need to go beyond the noting and remembering that Lincoln modestly said would not happen. We want to understand what he accomplished and how he did it, and maybe especially how he did what he did in such brief compass. The Gettysburg Address contains three paragraphs, ten sentences, and 272 words (word counts vary slightly depending on which version of the text is used, and whether certain words like “four score,” “can not,” and “battle-field” are formatted as one or two words). Astonishingly, since many words are used more than once, the speech is comprised of only 130 distinct words. Lincoln would have excelled at writing sonnets or maybe even sound bites and tweets.

To truly understand how a statement so brief could run so deep and last so long, we must carefully consider its substance and structure. To do so is to appreciate all the more Lincoln’s extraordinary accomplishment.

RELATED: Explore the Address with your students with the help of this close reading activity from teacher Anne Continetti, based on an essay by WSPWH editor Leon Kass. Bring the Address to life with the help of this short story about the speech.

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