Sample Speech Analysis: The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous presidential speeches. Lincoln recited the piece on November 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during the American Civil War . The setting of the speech was in the Gettysburg National Cemetery which was also the site of The Battle of Gettysburg. The battle resulted in an estimated 51,000 casualties and became a turning point of the civil war. The short speech inspired the remaining soldiers and paid tribute to those that died in the battle Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address strongly appealed to the sense of ethos, pathos, and logos which allowed him to inspire the audience and recite a memorable piece.
Lincoln’s Appeal to Ethos
The Gettysburg Address possesses a strong appeal to ethos due to Abraham Lincoln’s presidential position. During the speech, Abraham Lincoln is the President of the United States, making him the highest-ranking official in the country. This gave him the command and authority of a powerful leader which made the audience listen and pay attention. Additionally, Americans voted Lincoln as president through democracy which further establishes the public’s respect and positive perception towards him. Through these factors, Lincoln becomes a credible and authoritative speaker to the injured soldiers, widows, and other survivors of the war. This appeal to ethos is consistent throughout the speech and readers may apply it to any section of analysis.
Analysis of the Address’ Texts
The Gettysburg Address began with a phrase that referred to previous leaders of the United States and their establishment of a free and equal country. The speech read “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” (Lincoln). Through this introduction, Lincoln appealed to the sense of logos by stating a fact regarding the foundation of the United States. In the context of the American Civil War, the Northern States are fighting for the rights of the slaves, which aligns with the values of previous leaders. This opening statement acted as the speech’s thesis indicating that the war is a step towards freedom and equality.
Following the introduction of the speech, Lincoln summarizes the current situation of the country in a single sentence: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure” (Lincoln). This sentence describes that the United States is currently in a civil war that will test its foundations. This is another appeal to the sense of logos and a continuation of the statement of facts. Lincoln’s decision to begin the first few sentences of the speech with facts may be to allow the survivors to know that he understands the current situation. As mentioned earlier, many soldiers died in The Battle of Gettysburg which meant that some survivors may be feeling regret and great loss. Lincoln’s statement assures the survivors that their sacrifices are not in vain and that the country understands the reality of the situation.
Lincoln further describes the current situation through the lines: “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 here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this” (Lincoln). Through these lines, Lincoln appeals to the sense of pathos as he honors the soldiers that died in the battle and rationalizes the event in Gettysburg as a dedication and final resting place of the dead soldiers. He aims to remove the doubts that some survivors or critics may have regarding the event in Gettysburg. In this section of the speech, Lincoln may have wanted to let everyone understand the current situation and the importance of the sacrifices during the battle.
After establishing the current situation, Lincoln continues the text with the contradicting statement: “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 poor power to add or detract” (Lincoln). This contradiction is not to void his previous statement regarding the purpose of the event but to state the importance of the soldiers’ sacrifices. The statement implies that the battle in Gettysburg has changed the environment not just in a physical way but also in a deeper sense. He appeals to the sense of pathos as he creates an image of “brave men who struggled” in the battle and highlights their impact on the country’s future.
Lincoln then continues to give importance to the sacrifices by stating: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here” (Lincoln). However, history proved this statement false as the Gettysburg Address becomes one of the most famous speeches. In this statement, Lincoln aimed to imply that their spoken tribute to the dead is nothing in comparison to the actions of the soldiers. Here, he appeals to the sense of ethos and pathos to further honor the sacrifices and let the Americans know that he sees the soldiers in high regard. Lincoln’s stated that the world may forget his presidential speech but not The Battle of Gettysburg. During that time, this statement may have inspired the Americans and made the survivors proud.
The last section of the Gettysburg Address concludes Lincoln’s message of honoring the fallen soldiers and achieving progress through the end of the civil war. Lincoln stated: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced” to tell the American people that it is their responsibility to continue fighting in the civil war to accomplish the goals of the Union. Here, Lincoln appeals to the sense of pathos to motivate the audience to continue fighting the civil war. He utilized the words “living” and “they who fought here” to describe the survivors and the soldiers which could imply the difference between the dead and the survivors. Through these words, the audience may realize that the result of the war will be up to them since they, the living, are the only individuals that can act.
Lincoln ends the speech with: “...this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. This final statement perfectly describes the democracy in the United States and the ultimate goal of the Union. Lincoln appeals to ethos as he states that the United States is a “nation under God”. He uses this phrase to empower the audience through their religious beliefs and implies that a higher power is overseeing their battles. Along with this, Lincoln continued to appeal to ethos as well as logos through the phrase: “government of the people, by the people, for the people. This is a description of democracy which also describes Lincoln’s nomination as the United States President. Through this, he highlights that the American people voted for him, and thus, he command a sense of authority over them. The final words of the speech is Lincoln’s description of the result of the civil war. The Union’s victory will lead to liberty and progress while their defeat may lead to the fall of the democratic government. This is an effective final word for the speech as it leaves the audience with thoughts regarding the result of the war and their decisions as a nation.
Abraham Lincoln inspired the American people through the Gettysburg Address and its strong appeal to ethos, pathos, and logos. Lincoln was able to capture the audience’s attention through his presidential authority and continuous emotional reference to the soldiers that died in The Battle of Gettysburg. He utilized the sacrifices of the soldiers as a way to motivate the American people and allow them to understand the significance of the American Civil War. He also established simple streams of logic that further promoted his appeal to ethos and provided the audience with facts regarding the current situation amidst the war. Lincoln’s effective command of rhetoric made the Gettysburg Address a brief but compelling speech that inspired a nation.
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Frederick, Jared. “Review of The Ultimate Guide to the Gettysburg Address, by David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften”. Gettysburg Magazine, vol. 58, 2018, p. 100-100. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/get.2018.0007. Accessed 26 January 2022.
“Historical Context in Gettysburg Address”. Owl Eyes. https://www.owleyes.org/text/gettysburg-address/analysis/historical-context. Accessed 26 January 2022.
Lincoln, Abraham. “The Gettysburg Address.” 1863. The Gettysburg Address. Cornell University. https://rmc.library.cornell.edu/gettysburg/good_cause/transcript.htm Accessed 26 January 2022.