Various scholars and researchers consider the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg in particular as one of the best in the human history. Abraham Lincoln was known for employing literary devices in his presidential address. Coupled with biblical allusions and expression, he also heavily made use of literary devices as grammatical parallelism, repetition, and antithesis, in many of his presidential address. He also brought into play rhetorical devices sparingly. He frequently employed in his speeches alliteration, assonance, and anaphora. He gave a solemn touch much like a ritual to his Gettysburg address which begins “Fourscore and seven years ago.” This was a simple and straightforward address but he never lost sight of the use of literary devices which however do not weaken his message. In the speech, flamboyant repetitions are also present.(Burlingame, 2008) We can gauge his use of literary allusion by analyzing the little speech the he delivered in the wake of Vicksburg and Gettysburg victories. “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”. Here, Lincoln is alluding to the historical date of 1776, it was the year when the declaration of Independence was signed. Four score and seven years ago mean eighty-seven years, since a score is twenty years. Eighty-seven years earlier than 1863 is 1776. As a matter of fact, the official duties of the President of United States encompass the writing of state papers which of course considerably large in volume and number. Almost all the Presidents that preceded Lincoln had an outstanding academic training or intellectual environment. But what stands Lincoln from the rest is the background of a very little academic training and despite that he was able to write and speak impeccably using literary devices in a masterly fashion.
His avidness for literary criticism can be confirmed through his correction of Seward’s letter of instruction to Charles Francis Adams, minister of England. Seward was a shrewd scholar, an exceptional writer and one of the most learned men. He wrote the letter and sent it to Lincoln for suggestions and corrections. The changes that Lincoln made to the manuscript brought colors to the letter. His suggestions improved the quality of the letter. History has it that Lincoln was clearly a better choice than Seward in terms of literary matters. In this vein, he was a master and Steward was merely his pupil.(Foner, 2008) Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address focuses on a number of overlooked themes and ideas, such as the importance of literary allusion and the general public’s knowledge of the Bible in the age of Lincoln. It provides fresh answers to old questions and poses a new one.
His power and command to translate ideas into language in speeches and writings was markedly befitting. He had a masterly grip over great subjects. He was able to analyze the events from every perspective. If we are to choose a few of his speeches that befittingly make an example of his literary genius which is surely not contaminated by the political overtones. The House-divided-against-itself speech given at Springfield June 16, 1858 is a pretty good example. The essential thought conveyed through this speech was that the battle between freedom and slavery will surely end but after hard times. He recurrently made biblical references to the Bible and had a strong belief that there is always the hand and spirit of God in shaping the events. Filled with hindsight and insight, this very tendency served to elevate his thought, writings, and speeches. We often find spiritual disposition in the political stature of Abraham Lincoln that we can compare him to some extent with Isaiah who too has a manly piety in the closing paragraph.(Russell, 2003)
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ’The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have home the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”(Russell, 2003) If we consider the third paragraph of the speech, “the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here” we come to know about this parenthetically asserted inclusion of the living among dead suggests that the deed at Gettysburg cannot be put into oblivion. This passage creates a mystical aura to appreciate the brave men who fought to abolish slavery from the face of United States.
He makes good use of syllable, for at various instances in the speech. He seems to be obsessed with the use for because of its sound. He employs it so strongly that it is often remembered as the beginning “Four score and seven years ago our forefathers brought forth.” Such a repetition further invigorates and energizes his speech. A deeper look at his speeches or papers suggests that Abraham Lincoln was full-blown literary critic masquerading as an influential president of America.
“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 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 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.”
The effect of this speech was not abrupt nor did it appeal to the every present on the occasion but it had far-reaching effects and notable for the use of literary devices such as allusions, metaphors and epitaph. Colonel Lamon was on the platform at the time of its delivery and he says very decidedly that Everett, Seward, himself, and Lincoln all opined that the speech was a failure. He adds: “I state it as a fact, and without fear of contradiction, that this famous Gettysburg speech was not regarded by the audience to whom it was addressed, or by the press or people of the United States, as a production of extraordinary merit, nor was it commented on as such until after the death of the author.”(Elmore, 2009) At that time, the majority of leading daily papers remained silent and refrained from commenting on the speech in a positive light. It is a fact that initially the speech was not appreciated. After a little while, the public arose to the fact that some of Lincoln’s remarks were superior to that of Everett’s brilliant and learned oration beyond measure. The author manifestly recounts that it was compared to the oration of Pericles in memory of the Athenian dead; that it was currently said that there had been no memorial oration from that date to Lincoln’s speech of equal power.(Cox, 1981)
This comparison with Pericles is surely analyzed in high-esteem. The two orations are very different: Lincoln’s was less than three hundred words long, that of Pericles near three thousand. Pericles relished the merits and advantages of the war while Lincoln bemoaned the necessity of war and always yearned for war. What they share in common is the appreciated glory of sacrifice for one’s country. It can safely be said that the Gettysburg address is replete with literary devices and this sharp-edged and brief though underestimated shall live on in the memory of as one good literary piece and political speech simultaneously.