On November 19, 1863, some four months after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln traveled to the small Pennsylvania town to help dedicate the Soldiers' National Cemetery. Actually, Lincoln was invited almost as an afterthought, to give "a few appropriate remarks." The main speaker at the ceremony was Edward Everett (1794-1865), one of the foremost American orators of the time. Everett had had a long and distinguished career as Governor of Massachusetts, U.S. Representative and Senator, President of Harvard University, Secretary of State in the Fillmore administration, and U.S. Minister to Great Britain. Many of the thousands attending the dedication ceremony undoubtedly came specifically to hear the great man speak. In fact, the ceremony's organizers originally planned October 23 as the dedication date, but Everett told them that the earliest he could research and prepare an oration would be November 19. Thus, the ceremony was planned around Everett's schedule.
Everett's speach lasted just over two hours. He began by comparing the ceremony to ancient Athens's practice of honoring the dead of the Battle of Marathon; he then detailed each of the three days of the recent battle, and followed with several historical examples of nations torn apart and achieving a new unity. His speech met with thunderous applause.
Lincoln's speech lasted just over two minutes, not long enough for the photographer present to prepare and expose a negative of the speaking president. The brief speech he gave at the ceremony--in which he mentioned only one nation without refering to North or South and honored all the battle's dead--served to re-dedicate a war-weary nation to the war effort and is remembered as one of the most stirring pieces of oration of all time, while Everett's speech has been all but forgotten.
This is Lincoln's text:
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.