An analysis of the presentation style used by Abraham Lincoln in his famous speech at Gettysburg during the American civil war.
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Deconstructing Lincoln’s 269 words
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
This is setting the scene with a precise statement of the historical context. The use of the biblical style four score and seven, echoing three score years and tenin Psalm 90, sets a momentous tone.
Then the words conceived and created are used, reversing the usage so that the nation is conceived whereas all men are created.
Logically, nations are created and men are conceived.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . . testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . can long endure.
He reiterates the word conceived to link back to the previous sentence, emphasising the unique origins of the nation.
Bringing the audience back to the here-and-now.
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. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
Establishing the reason for the occasion and the rationale behind it.
He challenges their right to do this by questioning their right to honour so great a sacrifice.
He uses the Rule of Three for emphasis and uses semi-religious words in each line: dedicate, consecrate, and hallow.
The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
He again echoes the powerful word consecrate with its religious connotations, and positions those present as being humbled, by using the phrase far above our poor power.
The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
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.
Now he contrasts the people who are being honoured with the role of the living; using the word dedicated to refer to the living.
This is again a semi-religious word and echoes the concept of consecration in respect of the dead.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us
He reiterates the concept of the living being dedicated (to the remaining task.)
1 ... that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion
2 ... that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain
3 ... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom
He uses the Rule of Three to emphasise the tasks ahead for the living:
In (1) he contrasts the devotion of the dead and the devotion of the living
In (2) he emphasises this idea by talking about the dead not having died in vain,
By contrast, (3) avoids any linguistic tricks and makes a simple blunt statement but uses powerful and glorious words.
And again, the Rule of Three hammers home the fundamental principle underlying the foundation of the nation, returning to biblical phraseology with the closing words: shall not perish from the earth.