Language and Structure in the Gettysburg Address

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The Gettysburg Address was given on November 19, 1863 to the Union soldiers four months after they defeated the Confederates at the Battle of Gettysburg. This speech brought a new outlook on what was currently happening in the war and what was yet to come. Lincoln uses language and structure in The Gettysburg Address to portray elegant languages of allusion, contrast, and repetition to establish the reason why they were fighting and to keep fighting.

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In the first paragraph, the president uses allusion with the phrase four score and seven years ago (Lincoln 483) which alludes to the Bible??s three score years and ten (Psalm 90) about the importance of human life. It is basically a fancy way of saying eighty-seven years ago. He also concludes his first sentence with another allusion to the Declaration of Independence by using the line “that all men are created equal.” (Lincoln 483) This applies to a strong significance of shared equality, no matter the color of skin. Lincoln ends the speech with an allusion to the Constitution by using …the people. (483) This use of words connects the two documents and the population together the same way they did when the country was founded. By opening and closing with religious references and references to the country’s foundational documents, it forms a forceful sense of peaceful harmony.

The second literary device Lincoln uses is contrast. In the second paragraph, he proclaims, 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. (Lincoln 483) This specific structure contrast began with the negative aspect and ended with the positive one. It is a key factor in the rhetorical tradition. Lincoln goes on in the third paragraph with simple contrasting pairs such as, The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our power to add or detract. (483) He indicates that no one will remember what was said on the sacred ground, but he refuses to let anyone forget what happened there. Using the device of contrast adds a sense of rhythm to the speech and stresses the importance that we cannot overlook the sacrifice these soldiers made for our great nation.

Lastly, President Lincoln uses repetition numerous times throughout the speech. In his second paragraph, he continuously uses the inclusive word we. By doing so, it forms a sequence of anaphora. According to literarydevices.net an anaphora is the deliberate repetition of the first part of the sentence in order to achieve an artistic effect. Using this specific word continuously creates a sense of unity in the time of the struggling, divided nation. Lincoln opened his second paragraph by stating, We are engaged in a great civil war. (Lincoln 483) This sentence grouped everyone in that moment and for the rest of history on the same level. He uses repetition again in the third paragraph by starting each clause with we can not. Lincoln emphasizes what he and his audience are unable to do by using multiple diverse verbs with the same meaning, But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -we can not consecrate- we can not hollow- this ground. (483) Lastly, in his final words, -and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (483) He ended the speech with an echo to the beginning, reminding everyone present that this government is created by and for the people, and that a victory so powerful would change history forever.

Lincoln uses language and structure in The Gettysburg Address to portray elegant languages of allusion, contrast, and repetition to establish the reason why they were fighting and to keep fighting. In just 10 sentences and 272 words, he honored the dead but reminded the audience they still had a long way to go. He urges them to remain committed to the ideals set by the nation’s founding fathers. The Gettysburg Address is important because it helped Lincoln to portray the bigger picture. He didn’t talk about the negativity of the battle, but of the positivity that paved a better path to the importance of self-government. He broadly spoke of the recent events at hand and emphasized the healing of the nation. This was more than just slavery.

The Union was questionable about continuing the war and worried if we would ever recover. But in those few words, he gave the mortal struggle for reunification a face and a meaning unlike any president before him, or after him. The Gettysburg Address remains as powerful as it does because it became a yardstick against which we measure our society. To this day, generations have built on and around Lincoln’s words, rallying their listeners to take up the unfinished work of freedom and democracy in their own ages. To this day, they’ve kept Lincoln’s message meaningful.

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Language and Structure in The Gettysburg Address. (2019, Dec 04). Retrieved January 28, 2023 , from
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