Hilary Palmer Literature Review of the Gettysburg Address
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln gave one of the most influential speeches of all time in the Gettysburg Address. The United States was in the midst of a long and bloody civil war, and it was through the Gettysburg address that brought a deeper and more sincere cause of fighting the Confederate South. Not only was it to preserve the Union, but also to branch equality out to all those born within the United States of America.
The speech aroused various opinions and perceptions of the words utilized within the speech. Many people revered Lincoln’s words, while others stood against them in disdain. Lincoln’s speech incorporated many stylistic elements including diction, syntax, setting, and historical background that caused various reactions to his speech; many looked to him in approval, while others did not. This raises the question, what elements of the Gettysburg Address had the greatest significance to rhetoricians in forming their opinion of the speech? Through the course of this paper the diction, phonetic structure, setting, and historical significance in order to evaluate how rhetoricians reacted and responded to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Delivered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln’s address was memorable before he even began to speak. Scheduled to be given during the ceremony in a cleared battlefield, the speeches context and tone was already well known. Yet the setting of the speech helped to ensure it was significant to those in attendance. None of the many different aspects of the address became problematic in the deliverance of the speech. This not only facilitated the speeches quick delivery but also how it became perceived by the people who were in attendance. The setting of Lincoln’s speech was not just determined by the environment, but also by the time it was given. As explained in Gettysburg Revisited by Corinne Flemings, the juxtaposition of speeches given prior to Lincoln’s speech and his own caused Lincoln’s words to stand out more so than others.
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For example, the speech given by Eisenhower at that same ceremony was considered an opposite to Lincoln’s speech. The role the setting played was so crucial that over a hundred years later at the address’ commemoration it was attempted to recreate almost all of those different aspects of it, from the music to the location. While the setting had a commemorating effect on the audience during the Gettysburg Address speech, the events that transpired from the speech also had a significant effect on critical opinion. In the Buckeye Criticism of the Gettysburg Address by Earl W. Wiley, the author highlights various historical responses to the Gettysburg Address during the time of the speech. The majority of these speeches had a great disapproval of the words expressed by Lincoln.
Wiley highlighted a quote from Samuel Medary from the Crisis newspaper, “The president read harangue about his ‘war for freedom’ of the negro by destruction of the liberties of American citizens” (Wiley, 1956). This quote shows the general disapproval of Lincoln’s words during this time in history. Instead of critiquing the speech as a whole, Wiley comments and analyzes the reactions to the speech during the time that it was given. These responses given include those of newspaper writers and government officials the speech revolves around the idea that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was a speech that is renowned across the world; however, during the time that the speech was spoken many people did not see it as such. This is a stark contrast to the many critical opinions that praise Lincoln’s words. This article shows that the words of Lincoln were radical for his time. It took an ideological evolution in order for people to see the beautiful simplicity and power of his speech. Historical events and the time of the speech also played a role in the opinion and thought of the speech, similar ideas can be found in the Writing the Gettysburg Address. This article goes over the thought process of President Lincoln during the time in which the Gettysburg Address was written and eventually spoken.
Lincoln knew that the rhetor of is words had an immense amount of importance; therefore he created it with care. The author of the article writes, “…his beliefs and values were reflected in his language choices which are timeless in their poetry and in their importance to Lincoln’s commitment to not only honoring those who died but to envision a future reconciliation process” (Johnson, 2013). The author of this article highlights the events leading up to this speech that made it more so important than any speech Lincoln had gave within his history as president. With the nation at odds and the American people looking for a leader to guide and steer them, Lincoln was obligated to put those fears to rest, while also taking a stand against a national evil–slavery. Johnson analyzes this speech by highlighting and touching on the events that led up to the Gettysburg Address and how they affected the author’s choice of words. The author does this in order to find the deeper meaning behind Lincoln’s words, he does this in order to make sense of the words that were used and why they were chosen.
All in all, Johnson simply argues for the importance of looking at historical context in order to create opinion and uncover true meaning behind works of literature. Johnson argues that this is what makes Lincoln’s speech well-known. This was a well-thought out and intricately constructed speech, put together in order to unite the nation under the necessary and proper circumstances. The writing style of president Lincoln’s speech was on element that has been heavily criticized and analyzed–word by word and line by line. Critics used this in order to find deeper meaning within President Lincoln’s words and to also display arguments for what the President truly and initially meant in his words. In the Gettysburg and Silence by Edwin Black, Black analyzes the certain use of words, which had an effect on creating Black’s overall opinion that the Gettysburg Address is one of the most eloquent and impressive speeches of all time.
Black says in his article, “The complexity of the address, which had been requisite ascendance, enables it to give back a singular answer to each critic who bring to it a question, capacity to accommodate the diverse partialities of its observers, and yet abide in its integrity” Black argues that what makes Lincoln’s so commemorable is the fact that it is able to transcend the objections and opposing arguments of various critics. He also highlights the diction used within the piece to rave its critics. Black states, “The word “here” tolls like a bell through that period of fixation on the present moment. It appears a total of eight times in the speech, with two functions. One is the pointing these repetitions of the occasion: their constituting a recurrent anchor for one moiety of a bipolar orientation in which the implicit ‘there’, which contrasts with ‘here’, is the future”, Black also adds, “The other function of the repetition of ‘here’ relates to the pun on ‘hear’, a recurrent command issued to the audience to listen.” (Black, 1994). It is through Lincoln’s skillful play on words that grants him the ability to maintain the hearts and ears of the audience. This is a central part of the reasoning as to why and how Lincoln was able to receive favorable remarks from critics.
Apart from the diction expressed within the Gettysburg address that resulted in a raving review of the speech, critics also analyzed its phonetic structure. Bert Emsley compliments in his article, Phonetic Structure in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, how the intricate placement of vowels and consonants created a stylistically smooth and high ranked speech when compared to others. Emsley argues that this is what makes Lincoln’s speech memorable and well-written. Emsley writes, “With respect to phonetic smoothness, high rank is given to low percentages of hiatus, clusters, “contacts”, and contact-clusters, groups, and voiceless stops” Emseley writes that this is what makes Lincoln’s speech so aesthetically pleasing and skillfully articulated and formulated. Ever since it was given, the Gettysburg address has been lauded as one of the greatest speeches. One of the only speeches to have a monument erected in its wake to commemorate it, many know the Gettysburg address carries great significance due to the casualties of the war that preceded it. Yet among many rhetoricians, the significance of the Gettysburg holds stem from how much impact it managed to have despite its length. Lincoln was praised for his ability to convey much without being verbose like his counterparts. His address would go on to be analyzed hundreds of time over, having elements such as syntax and phonetic smoothness quantitatively scored in order to rank it. Despite Lincoln’s speech instead took advantage of background common knowledge, the setting, and the tone of the event to communicate what he wanted to relay.
Many critics of our time have revered Lincoln for his work; however, many critics of Lincoln’s time had a blatant disdain for his words (Wiley, 1956). It was not until the nation as a whole evolved and ideologies progressed for a tolerance for equality that it has been accepted. All of the articles utilized information either within the Gettysburg Address itself or from historical and situational analysis in order to prove its argument for a well-rounded speech. Abraham Lincoln spoke one of the greatest speeches of all time and the analysis of the critics expressed in this paper represent that.