Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Long Remembered

The new American history blog Almost Chosen People reminds us that today is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Addess, delivered on Nov. 19th, 1863. The Gettysburg Address stands unique, to my knowledge, in the American branch of the English-speaking world as the only speech by a political leader which is widely memorized and quoted in its entirety long after the fact. There are some isolated famous sections of speeches by FDR, JFK and Martin Luther King which are widely remembered, but unless anyone else can think of anything I'm completely forgetting, the Gettysburg Address is uniquely treated as a piece of rhetoric which is remembered and memorized in its entirity. (I still recall it nearly word for word, having memorized it in fifth grade.) Indeed, the only other similarly treated piece of oratory I can think of is the (fictional) Crispin's Day speech in Shakespeare's Henry V.

Fourscore 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 battlefield 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 this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot 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.

From our international readers, I'm curious: What pieces of oratory are similarly remembered in the British-English world, or in other non-English-speaking countries?


Deacon Bill Burns said...

I had the opportunity to stand on those very hallowed grounds last week.

Anonymous said...

Churchill? The one where he talks about fighting on the land, air sea...

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

The only other example I could think of would be Lincoln's Second Inaugural, though I don't think it was subject to memorization nearly as much as the Gettysburg Address (these days I'd be surprised if kids had to memorize much of anything in the way of political speeches).

Enbrethiliel said...


When I was in the fifth grade, my school had an oratory contest which required students to memorise much of Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech.

In my first year of high school, a classmate and I fought over who would get to recite John F. Kennedy's Inagural Address for Speech class. (I ended up with the first half; she got the second half.)

You've already mentioned these two orators, though, so I guess I'm not saying anything new. =P

Emily J. said...

It wasn't until a couple years ago, in preparation for a visit to the hallowed ground, that I tried memorizing it because I was making my older kids memorize it.

How many other public speeches say so much in so few words?

Roman orators come to mind -- Carthage must be destroyed!