Any student of American History must have an understanding of the Gettysburg Address - and what better way than to tell them the story behind the speech...
This zip file includes a PowerPoint presentation on the Gettysburg Address, a copy of the speech, and a series of questions based on the speech.
The PowerPoint begins with a picture of the town of Gettysburg (at this point, it is assumed that students already understand the importance of Gettysburg as the turning point of the Civil War). The next slide displays a picture of three Confederate soldiers, proudly standing for their portrait despite having been recently captured.
President Lincoln was not the first choice to speak at the Gettysburg Ceremony - indeed, the president was invited as an after-thought. Chosen to give the main address was Edward Everett, a celebrated orator and diplomat who had served as Governor of Massachusetts from 1836 until 1840. Everett's speech lasted two hours, in which he compared the recent battle at Gettysburg to battles of antiquity. By the time Everett was finished, the crowd had grown rather restless.
Lincoln's own speech of 271 words lasted a mere two minutes. Indeed, Lincoln's speech was so short that the photographer did not have enough time to prepare his equipment for the picture; hence, Lincoln is already in the process of sitting down in the photograph. There was a smattering of applause, barely polite. The Chicago Times observed, "The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States." Even Lincoln turned to his bodyguard, Ward Lamon, and said his speech, "won't scour."
It was not until later that the importance of what Lincoln had said set in. Reminding the nation that the democracy was young (a mere 87 years old), Lincoln argued that the war represented a "new birth of freedom," that Americans must now decide to follow the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence. He argued that the North must finish the war - to do otherwise, to quit now, as so many had argued - would mean that the thousands of soldiers who had given their lives would have done so in vain.
In a letter to Lincoln written the following day, Everett praised the President for his eloquent and concise speech, saying, "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."
The final slide of the PowerPoint again shows the picture of Lincoln in the process of sitting down after completing his speech. I generally use this opportunity to show a clip from the Ken Burns' series on the Civil War, during which the voice of Sam Waterston = as Lincoln - delivers the Gettysburg Address. Very powerful, indeed. I would be happy to share the clip, if requested.
The PowerPoint is saved in an Office 97-2003 format and using a Calibri font (which can be adjusted as needed).
The Gettysburg Address by Brian Hook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.