Professors and students reflect on significance of Gettysburg Address 150 years after its delivery

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Exactly 150 years after President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at a Pennsylvania cemetery, his message of standing up for the country’s values still apply, according to UT professors and students.

Barry Brummett, professor and chair of communication studies, said the speech is often used to provide justification for government intervention in modern wars.

“[Lincoln] says we’re founded on these principles, and we’re engaged in this great war to test these principles,” Brummett said. “We need to understand that the people who died, died for these principles. Apply that to World War I, apply that to World War II.”

Lincoln said Americans should not allow soldiers who have died in the name of freedom to die in vain.

“From these honored dead, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they were here, gave the last full measure of devotion,” Lincoln said. “We here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain.”

Radio-television-film freshman Carl Little said Lincoln’s message of national unity is relevant to partisanship in modern American politics.

“What Abe was fighting for was unity,” Little said. “Let’s be able to compromise — 150 years later, we’re still dealing with the same problems Abe addressed.”

In his speech, Lincoln said the soldiers who died fighting for a united country had a noble purpose.

“We have come to dedicate a portion of [this battlefield] as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live,” Lincoln said. “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, while it can never forget what they did here.”

Associate history professor Robert Olwell said until recently, people overlooked the speech because of its brevity.

“It was not in the style of what was considered good oratory which tended to be flowery and filled with classical illusions,” Olwell said. “In fact, Lincoln was not the main act at Gettysburg. They had Edward Everett, who was the main show. People came to hear Everett, who talked for two hours. Lincoln’s address takes two minutes.”

Brummett said Lincoln’s 270-word speech was intended to be telegraphed and reprinted in newspapers nationwide.

“It was that interesting intersection of change in media that contributed to its power, to its effect,” Brummett said. “Now we’ve really moved into the age where brevity is what we expect from media.”

Its brevity has played a role in the preservation of the speech throughout history, Brummett said. 

“It was the fact that it was short and sweet and to the point that created the impact then and since,” Brummett said.