Lincoln’s Vision of Democracy

At Gettysburg, he chose his words carefully—especially the prepositions, ‘of,’ ‘by’ and ‘for’ the people.

Journal Editorial Report: The president's speech left some problems on the cutting-room floor. Image: CNP via ZUMA Press Wire

The news of the great battle at Gettysburg came to Abraham Lincoln by fits and starts. But when it was finally confirmed on the morning of July 4, 1863, that Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army had been forced to retreat, the tidings couldn’t have been more welcome. To a crowd of well-wishers who gathered outside the White House, Lincoln exulted that “the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal” had at that great battle “ ‘turned tail’ and run.”

Before month’s end, plans were developing to create a majestic national cemetery in Gettysburg for the more than 3,300 Union dead, with dedication ceremonies to take place on Nov. 19. The featured orator would be the august Edward Everett. But for the actual dedication sentences—a “few, appropriate remarks,” as David Wills described them in his invitation letter—the organizers turned to Lincoln.

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