Gettysburg Address

By Josephene O

November 19th, 1863 Lincoln gives the Gettysburg Address to commemorate the thousands of lives lost in battle. Ironically, he believed that what he said was not important, except that what he said was actually really important. No one talks about what happened that day, they talk about what Lincoln said because it was that influential to the progress of the war. When giving the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln reinterprets the Declaration of Independence, redefines “people”, and he notes a shift in the people v. the government to the people are the government. Lincoln announced what everyone had been thinking, what everyone knew but wouldn’t admit. By giving the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln announced a point of no return that was reached when limited war became a total war. He was announcing his refusal to recognize the Confederacy as anything but rebels and his plan to end the war with no conditions.

At the beginning of the war, many believed that the government had no jurisdiction to interfere with an individual’s right. The right of the state was more important than protecting federal law. This is the premise under which the southern states seceded from the Union. Lincoln did not see this as a legitimate secession. He refused to acknowledge any legitimacy of the Confederacy. This is evident in his Fabian policy in which he stalled response and action in order to preserve the union. His policy was to hold, occupy, and possess. Lincoln was convinced that the war would be done just as soon as it had started. This was not the case. A limited war soon became total war. For example: 90-day enlistment turned in to a three-year draft; preserving the Union turned in to starting anew; total war signaled the end of Fabianism to which he turned to his policy of peace through victory. Victory could only truly be a victory if the Confederate states returned to the Union—and Lincoln refused to have it any other way.

Beyond just the beginning of the war, by reinterpreting the Declaration of Independence Lincoln challenged the founding fathers’ ideas of what the country should be. “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.” He redefined “people” to include far more than what the founding fathers had intended. For instance, when the Declaration was written only landowners could vote, Lincoln reestablished this to be all people regardless of land ownership or occupation. Additionally, not only does Lincoln use “people” differently, he also makes it clear that they are working by their own agency as citizens rather than by “the laws of nature and of Nature’s God”. This new Union would be a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”. This was even more significant because now, Lincoln was referring to everyone, not just the wealthy or those who owned land. Lincoln set a precedent for commanding the country during times of internal conflict. He was direct with his speech, making it clear that he would have none else but peace through victory.

In conclusion, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, although brief, had a substantial impact on the end of the war. Lincoln announced his plans for ending the war in a Union victory. Except, this announcement marked a point of no return. Only a few weeks later on December 8, Lincoln announced his plans for reconstruction. This man meant business and he wasn’t going to negotiate with rebels.