The Gettysburg Address, a short yet immortal speech delivered by Abraham Lincoln continues to be considered one of the most historically significant speeches ever conducted in American history. Few speeches have had more influence or have been analyzed so significantly than the Gettysburg Address. Numerous books exist today that analyze the short but powerful 272 word speech. However, almost all of these books either discredit or refuse to acknowledge the religious language and meaning thats behind the Gettysburg Address. In a book authored by A.E. Elmore titled “Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: Echoes of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer” explained after analyzing ever word of the address:
It is far more powerful when seen in its religious context than when it is merely a political speech.
In this blog post we will further define the meaning behind the quote by A.E. Elmore and attempt to explain why so many have missed the religious context behind Lincoln’s Immortal Words delivered more than 150 years ago.
Religious Language in the Gettysburg Address Explained
In arguably the most popular line in the address, “Four score and seven years ago”, at the very beginning, used the biblical form of counting as a way to remind everyone that the founding principle of equality in America was written 87 years ago in the Decleration of Independence. Psalms 90:10 specifically uses this form of counting to describe old age. Lincoln is said to have used this form to describe a nation that was growing older and ready for “a new birth of freedom”. The words conceive, brought forth, dedicate, consecrate, struggle, new birth, under God, and perish all have biblical origins that would have impacted the audience. Lincoln was familiar with the book of common prayer and such rhetoric would be reserved for church ceremonies and specific occasions by the episcopal church he attended early in life.
The dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetary would have been a sufficient opportunity to use such words that were spoken by Lincoln that day. A perfect opportunity for Lincoln to use his audiences religious and political motivations at that specific time.
Nothing in the Gettysburg address was unconscious and was every bit intentional.
Gettysburg Address Facts
Most historians dismiss the myth that Lincoln wrote his speech hastily right before he delivered his comments to the audience, on his train ride to Gettysburg, or off the top of his head from the platform he stood on that day. All of these myths were highly uncharacteristic of Abraham Lincoln as told by his former law partner William Herndon.
Lincoln was a slow writer who made the effort to sort out his thoughts and tighten his rhetoric before any public speech or in the court of law. Lincoln’s role that day was meant to be simple — deliver closing remarks and not a long speech. However, Lincoln used this opportunity to further express the significance of the Civil War. In a book by Gary Wells titled, “Lincoln at Gettysburg: Words that Remade America”, Wells writes that Lincoln’s remarks that day were considered and accepted interpretation of the Decleration of Independence and the Constitution that was instilled in people that America was to remain united as one nation.
Because the acceptance of the Gettysburg Address that day, we live in a different America today.
Lincoln’s Religious Beliefs
Many historians dispute the fact that Lincoln would use the word “Under God”. A.E. Elmore, who again analyzed every word of the Speech, states that Lincoln was the type person who left nothing to chance and instead carefully choose every phrase of the address by skillful using the rhetoric devices that would connect every sentence and thought to the previous sentence. The oldest verbatim copy written by an Associated Press reporter, contains the words “Under God”. The phrase was as intentionally used as any other in the speech given by Lincoln that day.
Author Stephen Mansfield, who has written about the religious beliefs of numerous presidents including Lincoln, said that Lincoln told his Cabinet, regarding the emancipation proclamation that subsequently freed the slaves, and delivered just 11 months prior to the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln would tell his cabinet that doing so would keep the covenent with God he made. Lincoln has now fully come to acknowldge the role God played in nations and those nations were accountable to God alone and that men were the means in which God accomplished his divine will.
Perhaps author A. E. Elmore sums up the long debate best by expressing:
If leading authorities on Lincoln cant hear the bible when its pointed out to them, that must be true for a-lot of people, and thats why i wrote a book about it.
Elmore would go on to say what can be seen a harsh reality even by today’s terms:
We live in such a biblically ignorant age. Most people are incredibly ignorant of the Bible.
The words that encompass the Gettysburg Address and expressed orally by Abraham Lincoln on that historic evening, will forever be recognized as the pivotal and incredibly important event in American history and as a result we are living in the America of today. All of which was constructed on a biblical foundation by Lincoln himself.
Note From Cory Hinton:
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