Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Only Known Photo Of President Lincoln at Gettysburg

It was on this day in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln got up in front of about 15,000 people seated at a new national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and delivered the Gettysburg Address.

It was a foggy, cold morning. Lincoln arrived about 10 a.m. Around noon, the sun came out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours. At that time, a two-hour speech was quite normal. Everett described the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once.

When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of 10 sentences, a total of 272 words. Lincoln did not mention any of the specifics of the war or any of the details of the battle of Gettysburg. He did not mention the North or the South. He did not mention slavery. Instead, he explained, in ordinary language, that our nation was founded on the idea that all men are created equal, and that we must continue to fight for that principle, in honor of those who have died fighting for it.

Unfortunately for Lincoln, the audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn't even realize he had spoken. Lincoln was disappointed in his performance, but the next day Edward Everett told the president, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes." The speech was reprinted in newspapers around the country, and it went on to become one of the most important speeches in American history.

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