Study Guide

Gettysburg Address Quotes

By Abraham Lincoln

  • Duty

    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. (9)

    Lincoln was so good that even his less famous lines end up influencing American culture. While being respectful and deferential to the soldiers who gave their lives at Gettysburg, the president also stressed that there was much work to still be done. Complacency was their greatest enemy, and Lincoln wanted to make sure people kept up the war effort.

    It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us […]. (10)

    The use of repetition in this short speech was effective as Lincoln again hammered home that, even in the wake of this great victory, winning was not a sure thing. It was up to each person to contribute to "the great task," i.e., beating the Confederacy.

    [...] that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain […]. (10)

    And here was Lincoln shaming the nation into action by pointing to the ultimate sacrifice of the fallen troops. It was a matter of duty and honor to carry on the legacy of those who had died and make sure that it was not for naught.

  • Patriotism

    Fourscore 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. (1)

    Now this is how you capture an audience. Lincoln simultaneously called back to the Founding Fathers (who were already somewhat larger-than-life figures) and listed the qualities that made the United States a cool place. This self-congratulatory move, subtly implying that the audience—by virtue of living in such a great nation—was great themselves, was definitely a good way to start a speech.

    [...] 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. (10)

    At the other end of the speech was an equally powerful appeal to listeners' patriotism. Highlighting the principles of freedom and democracy, Lincoln demonstrated exactly what the Union was fighting for…while implying the Confederacy was none of those things.

  • Equality

    Fourscore 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. (1)

    Straight from the Declaration of Independence, the idea that all men are created equal was a fairly obvious exaggeration in a society that kept millions in forced servitude. This seems to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that earlier the same year President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in territory conquered by the Union. Despite the tremendous boon to the abolitionist cause, it was still decades before America experienced a reasonable degree of equality. (Source)

    […] 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. (10)

    What could be more equal than a government of the people? Nothing, that's what. The American Revolution created a new type of democracy, with a level of equality not seen since Ancient Greece.

    Sure, it was equal in that all white landowning men could vote…but that was still better than no vote at all. Following the Emancipation Proclamation (and later the 14th and 15th amendments) however, the idea of an American government founded on equality began to take shape in earnest. And as outlined in Lincoln's speech, this was an aim worth fighting for.