Do you know how to read the Gettysburg Address?

Tack Cornelius, the speechwriter’s speechwriter (and perennial member of the Speechwriting All-Name Team) reminds us that today is the 147th anniversary of the American speech of speeches, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

To his note to us, Cornelius attaches an excerpt from a William Safire column on the speech; which I in turn excerpt here.

An irreverent aside: All speechwriters stand on the shoulders of orators past. Lincoln’s memorable conclusion was taken from a fine oration by the Rev. Theodore Parker at an 1850 Boston antislavery convention. That social reformer defined the transcendental “idea of freedom” to be “a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.”

Lincoln, 13 years later, dropped the “alls” and made the phrase his own. (A little judicious borrowing by presidents from previous orators shall not perish from the earth.) In delivering that final note, the Union’s defender is said to have thrice stressed the noun “people” rather than the prepositions “of,” “by” and “for.” What is to be emphasized is not rhetorical rhythm but the reminder that our government’s legitimacy springs from America’s citizens; the people, not the rulers, are sovereign.

If you can read that line aloud inside the Lincoln Memorial with a stress on “the people” and without choking, you’re a better man than I.

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