Labor History in 2:00

November 19 - Lincoln Delivers the Gettysburg Address

November 19, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1863. 

That was the day President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. 

It is considered one of Lincoln’s greatest speeches. 

Generations of students have been assigned to commit it to memory. 

The two-minute speech carries a deep significance in our country’s history. 

Lincoln delivered the speech at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 

Four months earlier, the Union had defeated Confederate forces at the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. 

Casualties on both sides totaled nearly 50,000 over the course of the three-day battle.

This battle, coupled with the fall of Vicksburg, is often considered a turning point in the war to end the slave labor system. 

Lincoln’s speech served to redefine the war’s purpose.

Originally, the emphasis had been one of preserving the Union.

Now, Lincoln drew upon the Declaration of Independence to also highlight the national struggle for human equality.

Lincoln began his speech with the acknowledgment that the nation was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” 

He ended the Gettysburg Address stating, “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.” 

Most Republicans praised the speech. 

But historian Eric Foner notes in his biography of Lincoln, that “many Democrats denounced Lincoln for unilaterally redefining the war’s purpose, which they insisted, had nothing to do with equality.” 

In 2015, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation published an edited volume, Gettysburg Replies. 

It features 272-word essays by presidents, historians, poets, actors, scientists and others about the lasting influence of the Gettysburg Address.

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