The “Other” Gettysburg Address

June 24th, 2013

As we near the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, much less attention has been given to the man whose oration at Gettysburg was actually considered the main event. History seems to have long forgotten famed orator Edward Everett’s two hour speech, despite his status as the featured speaker for the commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg. 

Everett was a supremely accomplished political figure, having served as a member of the US House of Representatives, a US Senator, the governor of Massachusetts, and Secretary of State, not to mention his role as president at Harvard University. (He was also the uncle of Edward Everett Hale.) Everett was a logical choice for the commemoration given his famed speaking prowess. Lincoln’s place at the Gettysburg commemoration was considered more of a formalityhis role was defined as making “dedicatory remarks” rather than the day’s “oration”.

As journalist Bob Greene recalls, the opening lines of Everett’s oration captured the audience’s attention:

Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature.

Everett was gracious towards Lincoln and his brief address, and they shared a brief correspondence together. He wrote, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Lincoln, in turn, wrote back to Everett, saying “I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure.”

Related: Check out What So Proudly We Hail’s in-depth lesson plan of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, helping students understand the meaning and central ideas of the famous speech.

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