I have always been a student of speech and speaking. In my high school years I was blessed to attend Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, Minnesota. We not only had an excellent Speech program under Barbara Seng (God rest her soul), but our debate team took the nationals under the tutelage of Craig Bucher. (I had nothing to do with the win. I just happened to be a student at the time.)
I was one of those reluctant students when it came to being told that something was important or had a special meaning. The Old Man And The Sea is at the front of the list (never bought into the hype) and unfortunately the Gettysburg Address was presented in such a boring fashion that I didn’t appreciate it for years.
Today is the 150th anniversary of that speech. I’ve thought a lot about what it means to me and this nation. For starters, it’s beautifully written. President Lincoln used exactly the right number of words to convey his message. God, please grant me that same skill set.
Lincoln, and the nation, were appalled at the slaughter in Pennsylvania. The Confederacy had come close to cleaving the nation with this battle. The Union knew it had been a close call. Lincoln’s speech, in spite of his prediction that it would not be long remembered, has gone down as one of the great orations of all time. It had the virtues of simplicity and directness, and the promise of a brighter future. It also clearly acknowledged that the war was not yet over and much bloodshed was to come. It was a call to arms, a plea for a second effort – a hope that this tragedy of brother versus brother might be brought to an end with additional determination.
I’ve read it out loud several times. But never before on camera. And today, in honor of this anniversary, I’ve captured it for you. I read the Bliss version of the speech and only managed to add one extra conjunction. Pretty good since I’m a doofus. But I’m a doofus who finally get’s the speech. Partly that’s because my friend Karl Bacon wrote a great book about the Civil War. The book, An Eye For Glory, is available for purchase and is a great work. It’s a fictional account of one man’s service to the nation during that war. His struggles and experiences. There is a great chapter on Gettysburg. Please take the time to read it if you’d like to understand the war on a personal level.
Without further ado, my reading of the speech. Below it you will find an even better insight into how it could have been done. Bob Newhart did a “bit” on the speech years ago and it’s as funny today as it was in my youth.
And now, Bob Newhart’s take on the speech.