Today in History, November 19th

11/19/2017

4 Score and 4 Trivia Questions about the Gettysburg Address

President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address on November 19th, 1863. It’s widely regarded as one of the famous speeches in history, but how much do you know about it? Try your hand at these four trivia questions about 272 words that proved a speech doesn’t have to be long to be memorable…

Who Wrote the Speech for Lincoln?

Rather than vilify the Confederacy after the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln chose a more inclusionary tone for his speech. Photo credit: Greg Goebel/Flickr.

Today, whenever a president gives a speech, you know that it has been written by a professional speechwriter – someone who actually studied the art of public speaking and knows the mechanics of delivering a great speech. But in 1863, things were done a little differently. It was, in fact, Abraham Lincoln himself who wrote the Gettysburg Address – every word of it. He finished the speech the night before he gave it and spoke from the heart. That’s why it is still so powerful today.

Why Is This Speech So Famous?

Lincoln came out the night before his speech and told a few jokes to a crowd of several hundred people.

Lincoln could have made the speech all about defeating the South and winning the war, but he did not. Instead, he geared the speech toward keeping the country together, working together, healing rifts, and honoring the democratic intent of the country’s Founding Fathers. This was not a bitter speech, nor did it try to stir up anger or fear. It would have been very easy for Lincoln to go the emotional button-pressing route, but he took a more inclusionary path, reminding people that the war was not being fought to vanquish an enemy, but to hold together a country that was started with such promise.

What Was the Original Purpose of the Speech?

Lincoln’s speech was really supposed to be a short address that was more of an afterthought than anything else. The ceremony’s star guest was famed speaker Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours. Lincoln did plan out what he would say (the legend that he wrote it on the fly was just that, a legend), but his invitation was a last-minute decision, and he was supposed to be there more for moral support than anything else. Lincoln’s intent in the speech was to remind people of how important this war was to the country and to try to keep morale up after such a devastating battle. Instead, the short speech gradually gained a reputation for being one of the most eloquent examples of patriotism and devotion to the ideals of democracy.

What Newspaper Retracted the Poor Review it originally gave the Gettysburg Address 150 Years Later?

NPR did a tongue-in-cheek story about the paper’s retraction, including an interview with the Opinion Page editor.

At the time, newspapers made no bones about which side they supported. The Patriot-Union, a Pennsylvania newspaper, dismissed the president’s remarks as “silly” and wrote, “For the credit of the nation, we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that there shall be no more repeated or thought of.” At the 150 year anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, in 2013, the same newspaper, now known as the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, issued a retraction which read, “Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to his audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives.”

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