People in the crowd 150 years ago today may not have realized they were hearing an historic speech. President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address on this date in 1863. Author James Cotton says the initial reaction to the two-minute presentation was mixed.
“It would two decades before the beauty of the speech and its meaning would begin to build,” Cotton explains.
Cotton singles out two phrases which have been a big part of the American vocabulary.
“One is 'all men are created equal,'” he says, “and the other, which most people know, he spoke of a 'government of, by and for the people.'”
Franklin and Marshall University Professor Terry Madonna says a lot of people who were on the battlefield that day may not have heard the president’s words.
“Of the 15,000 people who they said were in attendance, probably very few of them actually heard it,” Madonna says, “because without microphones and modern sound systems, one can't be too sure.”
But, the words still had impact for the century and a half which followed.
“He tried to explain in very clear language, though it has a good bit of flowery oratory in it, what America is all about,” he says.
Those 272 words defined a country.