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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] So, we've been talking about the Gettysburg Address which was delivered by Abraham Lincoln on November 19th, 1863. And as were saying in the last video, it's been about three and a half months since the Battle of Gettysburg when this speech is given and Lincoln himself is not even the headliner at this ceremony of dedicating this cemetery. He is just supposed to give a few appropriate remarks while the famous orator Edward Everett gives the really bombastic, two hour long speech that is going to rile up the crowd and make everyone understand the importance of the battle and the importance of the cemetery that is being dedicated. But, somehow, the 272 words that Lincoln says here in the Gettysburg Address has become one of the most famous and important pieces of rhetoric in American history. So, in this video, I'd like to just take a little time to read the Gettysburg Address and to interpret it, line by line, to give a better sense of what it's trying to say and why it's so important. All right, so let's see if I can do this justice. Four score 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. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. 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. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. 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. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us: that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, 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. Wow, it gives me chills just reading this. And there's just something about Lincoln's oratory, the way that he puts things, that just rivets you, and this is why he was such a great leader and such a great politician. Because, he knew how to use words to his advantage. And he knew how to touch people with what he had to say. Now, it's more than 150 years later and we still read this and memorize it in school and think about it on kind of a regular basis, because we frequently quote the words the he said here. So, how did this get to be so important? Well, let's read it line by line and see what he's really saying. All right, so, Four score 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. All right, well, this in case you're wondering, means 87 years. Four score, a score is 20. In fact, some of the newspapers that printed the text of this speech, just said 87 years ago, So, why doesn't Lincoln just say 87? Well, I think this fourscore and seven years ago has this really strong, I would even say Biblical ring, right? It has this importance and eloquence of oratory. So, he's already setting the tone to say here, in this nation, we are measuring time almost Biblicaly. Like this is a sacred mission, and it's been a sacred amount of time since the founding of the nation. And I think it's really interesting to note that it's only 87 years between 1776 and 1863. I know this is just basic math, but between the founding of the United States and the Civil War, when the union fought for its very survival, was less than 100 years. It's a very short period of time. Now, Lincoln as a young man, would have known older men who had fought in the Revolutionary War, Andrew Jackson for example. So, Lincoln starts out by saying that less than 100 years ago, the United States was founded and it was founded on this principle, that all men are created equal. Now, if you contrast this with the system of slavery, which the South is fighting to preserve, that is definitely in contradistinction to the concept that all men are created equal. So, Lincoln reminds his audience immediately that the founding principles of the United States were equality and liberty. All right, so he moves on to say Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. So in less than 100 years the idea that held the United States together is now being tested, and he's reminding people that the world is watching. They're saying, all right, there's this upstart democracy in the Americas saying that monarchy, which has been the rule of Europe for more than 1000 years is a silly proposition and they can do better. Well, now look at them. They're fighting a civil war because some folks want to be the masters of others and some folks don't think that's all right. So, in a way, what Lincoln is reminding people here is that they're engaged in this grand experiment. Right, this grand experiment of liberty and equality, where no one is the master of anyone else, where any person, like Abraham Lincoln, born in a log cabin, less than a year of school in his entire life can become president. So, if the democracy of the United States fails, if this union falls apart, then it will have proved the doubters right, that democracy doesn't work. And then he continues: We are met on a great battle-field of that war. 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. I think there are two important things here. So, he talks about the concept of a nation. And this is really interesting because prior to the civil war, it was frequent that people might say things like these United States right? The idea that the states are the most prominent portion of the country and that the individual states plural, were together in a union that was secondary to the idea of statehood. But, midway through the war, Lincoln starts to use the word nation more and more. And afterwards, it will always be known as The United States. So, Lincoln is signaling here that this is one united nation, not just a collection of states and that is what the American forces are fighting for. That is what the forces of the United States are trying to achieve, a united nation, not a united set of states. The other interesting thing here is that he mentions it's altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. Why wouldn't it be proper to dedicate a cemetery? Well, a lot of people thought that it wasn't proper for Lincoln to be speaking at this ceremony dedication. They thought that it was kind of a cheap political maneuvering. Imagine today if the president went to a soldier's funeral. Many people might say it's not appropriate for the president to be there because it's just a political opportunity, right? That you're trying to get votes from somebody else's tragedy. And it's kind of ironic, because Lincoln's speech here is very sacred, very funereal, whereas Everett's speech was very political, saying this was a great battle, we have to remember that the Confederates are our enemies. But Lincoln's speech is much gentler, much kinder, much more appropriate actually to a funeral perhaps than Everett's speech. But, he feels it necessary to remind people that it is appropriate to gather here together to mark the dedication of this cemetery even though many might decry it as just political grandstanding. Now, I think it's this next paragraph that makes the Gettysburg Address so powerful. So, let's read it. In a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here but it can never forget what they did here. So, he's drawing attention to the importance of the battlefield dead. He says this is not about us. It's about them. They have sacrificed. They have become martyrs for this cause, so we can not consecrate the cemetery, they have already consecrated it with their blood and with their sacrifice. So, he's reminding everyone of the sacrifice and the martyrdom of the battlefield dead. Now, here's the real power of the Gettysburg Address. The last couple of sentences. Let's read them all together. 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. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain 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. Well, what Lincoln does here is so powerful because it's kind of a rhetorical switcher-roo. He says we're not here to dedicate the cemetery. The cemetery is here to dedicate us. Men have died here and we must honor their martyrdom. We must honor their sacrifice for the experiment of liberty and equality by taking renewed dedication to that cause. So, come to the battlefield of Gettysburg. Come to this cemetery and take renewed heart in the mission of continuing democracy, continuing equality and continuing to fight for a United States of America. And how the rest of those battles play out, we'll get to in the next video.