Lincoln at Gettysburg : The Words That Remade America

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 1993-06-12
  • Publisher: Touchstone Books
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The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration than in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln was asked to memorialize the gruesome battle. Instead, he gave the whole nation "a new birth of freedom" in the space of a mere 272 words. His entire life and previous training, and his deep political experience went into this, his revolutionary masterpiece. By examining both the address and Lincoln in their historical moment and cultural frame, Wills breathes new life into words we thought we knew, and reveals much about a president so mythologized but often misunderstood. Wills shows how Lincoln came to change the world and to effect an intellectual revolution, how his words had to and did complete the work of the guns, and how Lincoln wove a spell that has not yet been broken.

Author Biography

Garry Wills, former Henry R. Luce Professor of American Culture and Public Policy at Northwestern University, is the author of Inventing America and Explaining America, as well as Reagan's America, Under God, Nixon Agonistes, The Kennedy Imprisonment, and other books. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Table of Contents

Key to Brief Citations 17(2)
Prologue 19(22)
1. Oratory of the Greek Revival
2. Gettysburg and the Culture of Death
3. The Transcendental Declaration
4. Revolution in Thought
5. Revolution in Style
Epilogue 177(14)
Appendices 191(1)
I. What Lincoln Said: The Text 191(14)
II. Where He Said It: The Site 205(6)
III. Four Funeral Orations 211(54)
A. By Everett 213(36)
B. By Pericles 249(8)
C. By Gorgias 257(4)
D. The Gettysburg Address 261(4)
1. Spoken Text (?) 261(2)
2. Final Text 263(2)
Acknowledgments 265(2)
Notes 267(40)
Index to the Gettysburg Address 307(2)
Index to Other Major Lincoln Texts 309(2)
Name Index 311(6)
Photo Credits 317


Chapter 1 Oratory of the Greek RevivalJames Hurt says that Lincoln used "the ordinary coin of funeral oratory" at Gettysburg. Insofar as there was a standard coinage of funeral tribute, Pericles struck the master coin 2,394 years before Lincoln spoke. At the end of the first year of Athens' war with Sparta, Pericles gave a speech over the ashes of the Athenians who had fallen in that year. Thucydides put a version of that speech in his history of the Peloponnesian War, and it became the most famous oration of its kind, a model endlessly copied, praised, and cited -- especially in the early nineteenth century, during America's Greek Revival.Edward Everett lost no time referring to that speech at Gettysburg. He opened his talk with a detailed description of the annual funeral rite at which Pericles had spoken, comparing it point for point with the ceremony for the Union dead. Both rites involved reburial. Athenian soldiers or sailors were cremated where they fell, then their ashes were returned to Athens and buried, together, on the annual day of military tribute. They were buried by tribe, with a special place for those whose tribes could not be identified -- as the Union dead were buried by states, except for those "unknown soldiers" who had their own special place.But at Gettysburg the reburial was still at the battle site. The ancient parallel for this, Everett was learned enough to know, was the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.E.), after which the Athenians were buried on the spot where they had saved Hellas from the Persians.These references, common enough at the time, all had a special meaning for Everett, considered by some the new Pericles for a young democracy of the Western world. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who studied Greek at Harvard in Everett's classroom, was emphatic in his teacher's praise: "There was an influence on the young from the genius of Everett which was almost comparable to that of Pericles in Athens."America as a second Athens was an idea whose moment had come in the nineteenth century. This nation's founders first looked to Rome, not to Greece, for their model. Like most men of the eighteenth century, they thought of Athens as ruled by mobs. If any Greek city was admired, it was Sparta, whose discipline inspired the severe moralists of the early Roman republic. The "mixed government" of Rome -- not Athens' direct democracy -- was the model invoked in debates over the proper constitution for the United States. The great republican of the new era, George Washington, was regularly referred to as a modern Cincinnatus, after the Roman who left the plow to serve the republic and then returned to his fields, relinquishing power. When Jefferson laid out the plan for his University of Virginia, he fashioned everything to Roman architectural standards.All this changed very rapidly as the eighteenth turned to the nineteenth century. Archaeology in Greece brought the ancient democracy to mind just as modern Greece began its struggle for freedom from the Turks. Greece would prove as important to the romantic movement as Rome had been to the Augustan age. Byron died as a military participant in the war for Greek liberty. Shelley wrote a Prometheus. Keats rhapsodized on a Grecian urn. Holderlin and the German romantics composed plays and poems on Greek themes. Architects looked to the Parthenon now, not the Pantheon. (The Elgin Marbles, taken from the Parthenon, had been moved to London by 1806.) It is significant of this changed taste that Washington completed his inherited home (as Jefferson conceived his own house) in the form of a Roman villa, while Lincoln's additions to the house he purchased were in the Greek Revival style. This was a "democratic" style in the eyes of Lincoln's contemporaries:Thomas Jefferson's brief and highly personal Roman Revival was the product of an individual mind; the Greek Revival was the product of a popul

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