One of the most famous speeches in the history of the United States is the Gettysburg Address. The reasons for the populartiy of the Gettysburg Address are found in it's simplicity, clarity of purpose and it's sincerity.
The Gettysburg Address was delivered as a part of the dedication ceremonies of the Soldiers's National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a full four and half months after the battle of Gettysburg was fought. Abraham Lincoln was not the keynote speaker of the dedication ceremony. That honor was reserved for Edward Everett, a well known orator who had held several prominent positions in government including that of state Senator, Governor of Massachusetts and Secretary of State.
President Abraham Lincoln was invited to attend for the specific purpose of dedicating the land as David Wills wrote in his request of the President for Lincoln's participation - "It is the desire that, after the Oration, you, as Chief Executive of the nation, formally set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks."
The President penned his Gettysburg Address over the next seventeen days, making several drafts on White House stationery, contrary to the popularly held belief he wrote the Address on a knapkin during the train ride from Washington. It is certainly possible he practiced by writing out the speech while on the train, however, as Lincoln continued to work on the speach after arriving in Gettysburg on the 18th of November. The final version of the Gettysburg Address that was actually spoken by Abraham Lincoln on November 19th is itselft not without dispute as various accounts were carried of the Gettysburg Address by local newspapers following Lincoln's delivery.
As speeches go the Gettysburg Address was quite brief, which has made it popular for memorization by schoolchildren, even today. For those of you in school reading this, don't you feel grateful to Abraham Lincoln for his brevity? In basically two paragraphs Lincoln managed to honor the fallen, capture the reason for the war, provide the purpose of our nations founding, provide inspiration for finishing the fight that had begun more than two years prior and justify preservation of the Union.
Below is the text of the Gettysburg Address delivered on the 19th Day of November, 1863 Cemetery Hill, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:
"Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new Nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now, we are engaged in a great Civil War, testing whether that Nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who gave their lives that that Nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honored dead, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that this Nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the People by the People and for the People shall not perish from the earth."