When President Lincoln spoke in November 1863, the United States was at its most fragile point since Washington's winter at Valley Forge. The North had repelled an attack on their home soil but, as in a bunch of battles throughout the Civil War, the casualty count was high.
Life was difficult for those at home and out in the fray. So when the time came to honor the dead from this important battle, the president took the occasion to remind the Union that they were fighting not just to reunite the country…but to uphold the principles of equality and freedom. That's some stirring rhetoric, right there.
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was instrumental in rekindling the spark in Northern troops and led to the successful resolution of the Civil War.
The Civil War continued for several more years following Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg, so the speech wasn't the key to ending the war—after all, actions speak louder than words.
In the wake of tremendous losses by both the North and the South in the Civil War, Lincoln was asked to speak at the dedication ceremony for the national cemetery at Gettysburg. His speech paid respects to the fallen soldiers while reinforcing that a failure to take back the South would be a failure to maintain the principles set out by America's Founding Fathers.
Oh, yeah, and did we mention that Abe had smallpox while delivering this speech? What a boss.
Right at the top of the speech, President Lincoln basically said, "Hey guys, remember that the revolution wasn't all that long ago, and right now we're in almost as desperate a circumstance."
People at the time were shocked by the scale of the conflict, and by the casualty counts printed in the papers. Spirits were understandably down.
But Abe went on to say that it was essential to tune out the haters that wanted to sue for peace with the Confederates because they were fighting for the very survival of the United States. As Lincoln had said years before, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
He saw the impossibility of two separate societies coexisting in America. Eventually, either slavery or abolitionism would have to win out. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.
Like Henry V or Gordon Bombay, President Abraham Lincoln delivered one heck of a halftime speech that spurred on the Union to a victory two years later.