On Thursday, November 19 in Pennsylvania, two men gave back to back speeches. The first man had served as the Governor of Massachusetts, U.S. Senator, and United States Secretary of State. He also taught at Harvard and served as its president. He was in a position to talk as long as he liked. And he liked to talk. His keynote address lasted 2 hours.
The second man took a very different approach. His followup speech consisted of only 271 words, and lasted only 2 minutes. Witnesses say there was no gesturing. No theatrics. And no pyrotechnics.
The first man was Edward Everett. His speech has been all but forgotten.
The second man was Abraham Lincoln. His speech, which has come to be known as The Gettysburg address, is one of the most famous speeches in American History. Perhaps it is rivaled only by Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I have a dream’, and Billy Madison’s ‘The Puppy Who Lost His way’.
Don’t say everything you can. Fewer words make sharper sentences. Sharp sentences penetrate. And only ideas that penetrate are remembered.
Here are those 10 sentences that make up The Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field 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.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. 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. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that 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.
November 19, 1863