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Analysis of Lincoln’s Use of Rhetorical Strategies in The Gettysburg Address

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Words: 1070 |

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Published: Jun 7, 2021

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Words: 1070|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Jun 7, 2021

Analysis Of Lincoln’s Use Of Rhetorical Strategies In The Gettysburg Address
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In his iconic Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln masterfully employed rhetorical strategies like allusions, repetition, and antithesis to underscore the profound sacrifices made by soldiers in the name of equality, freedom, and national unity. This historic speech has endured as one of the most renowned in American history, not merely recounting suffering but imbuing it with meaning.

In fewer than 300 words, Lincoln paid homage to the Union's fallen heroes while steadfastly upholding the vision of the nation's founders. He rekindled the American people's understanding of their cause, framing the Civil War as the ultimate trial for the North. Through Northern victory, the United States was preserved as a unified nation, and the institution of slavery, which had initially divided the country, was abolished.

Lincoln's persuasive argument reshaped the Civil War's purpose and impact, winning over opponents by recommitting the nation to the principles of equality, freedom, and unity. His words remain relevant today, serving as a timeless reminder of these foundational values. The enduring significance of the Gettysburg Address underscores its enduring importance in American society, where it continues to be celebrated and remembered by countless citizens.

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Gettysburg Address Rhetorical Analysis
  3. Conclusion

Introduction

Lasting from July 1 to July 3 of 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg is considered the most important part of the American Civil War. This battle was a Union victory that stopped Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North. More than 50,000 men died during the three days, making it the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave a meaningful and inspirational speech dedicating the battlefield cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In an era where leaders commonly delivered long speeches, Lincoln’s was less than three minutes. It is known as the most influential speech in the history of the United States and called the Gettysburg Address. In it, Lincoln paid tribute to the Union soldiers who sacrificed their lives. Having no idea at the time how famous his short speech would become, it continues to be well-known and remembered today. In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln uses rhetorical strategies such as allusions, repetition, and antithesis to remind the listeners of the purpose of the soldier’s sacrifice: equality, freedom, and national unity.

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Gettysburg Address Rhetorical Analysis

Lincoln’s address starts with an allusion to when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Beginning with the phrase, “Four score and seven years ago…” he was referencing the year of 1776, which was 87 years ago (Lincoln). Through this strategy, Lincoln was able to emphasize the importance of equality, freedom, and national unity in his topic by recalling the founding of the United States. He concludes his first sentence with a more explicit allusion to the Declaration of Independence by using the line ‘…that all men are created equal.’ (Lincoln). Once again, this allusion appealed to the shared value of equality, freedom, and unity. For such a short speech, Lincoln used many of the same words. His repetitive phrasing was intentional as it emphasized the points he made. By repeating the word “dedicate” multiple times in the beginning of his speech, he turns to recognize those who have fallen for their country. There was also the notion that Lincoln wanted Americans to dedicate themselves to the task of building their nation and staying true to the principles upon which it was founded. Lincoln was able to make a connection between the dead who gave their last full measure of devotion, and the living who devote themselves to preserving the nation. Through the use of allusion and repetition, Lincoln emphasized the importance of equality, freedom, and national unity in his address.

Moving to the body of his speech, Lincoln utilizes the rhetorical strategies of repetition and antithesis to display his dedication to the fallen soldiers and convince listeners to preserve the nation. Lincoln repeats the words ‘our’ and ‘we’ several times in the middle of his speech (Lincoln). During the Civil War when the nation was sharply divided, repeating these words emphasized and created a shared national unity. Lincoln preferred using the pronoun ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ in addressing his message. This pronoun was crucial to say to the audience because collective work is important for developing the nation. It is not just a sole function of a president. This often-noted repetition is critical in Lincoln’s purpose by stressing that the pain of loss and work ahead is shared by everyone. Lincoln also employed the use antithesis to effectively contrast one idea from another idea. By stating “…for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live” Lincoln makes an ultimate contrast between life and death. Communicating an idea juxtaposed with its polar opposite is compelling and engages the audience. This illuminates the purpose of the thesis by honoring those who died during war, but also staying true to the principles upon which America was founded. The antithesis allowed Lincoln to convey a hopeful and inspirational tone in the speech. Even though so many perished in the battle, from death comes new life, and so a rebirth of the nation is possible through sacrifice. It motivates those who survived to commit themselves to a goal of those who sacrificed their lives. In using repetition and antithesis, Lincoln was able to create unity and purpose within the hearts and minds of those who stood in support of the Union and its soldiers.

As Lincoln opened his speech with an allusion to the Declaration of Independence, he closes it with an allusion to the Constitution. The first three words of the Constitution are “We the People” (Madison). They declare that the Constitution derives its power from the people themselves. Lincoln alludes to the crucial document by finishing with a powerful triple that has become famous throughout the world: “of the people, by the people, for the people” (Lincoln). He linked the two great founding documents of the United States as he was trying to link the shattered country. Lincoln opened his speech by referring to the principles of human equality contained in the Declaration of Independence, and connected those principles with the desire for the preservation of the Union created in 1776 and its ideal of self-government. By opening and closing the speech with references to the country’s foundational documents, Lincoln created an especially strong sense of unity to convey the purpose of the Civil War.

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Conclusion

To remind the audience that soldiers sacrificed their lives for equality, freedom, and national unity, Lincoln utilized the rhetorical strategies of allusions, repetition, and antithesis within his speech. The Gettysburg Address has become arguably the most famous speech in American history because it took suffering and made meaning out of it. In less than 300 words, Lincoln honored the Union dead and strived to maintain the kind of nation imagined by America’s founders. He reminded the American people what they were fighting for. Beginning by invoking the image of the founding fathers and the new nation, Lincoln expressed his conviction that the Civil War was the ultimate test of whether the North would win or not. From the time this speech was given to the present, Northern victory preserved the United States as one nation and ended the institution of slavery that had divided the country originally. The argument presented in Lincoln’s speech successfully persuaded opponents because it changed the nature and the purpose of the Civil War. His speech is still important to consider today because he rededicated the nation to the principles of equality, freedom, and national unity. The Gettysburg Address had a major impact on society, still proving to be famous and remembered by many Americans today.

In this essay, we will dissect Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a masterful demonstration of rhetorical strategies. As you journey through this analysis, consider exploring more rhetorical essays on our website, where you can uncover the intricacies of persuasive writing. Join us in delving into rhetorical analysis essay examples to unravel the power of language and persuasion.

Works Cited

  1. Gallagher, G. W. (2005). The Gettysburg Address: Perspectives on Lincoln’s Greatest Speech. Oxford University Press.
  2. Guelzo, A. C. (2013). Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. Vintage Books.
  3. Wills, G. (1992). Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America. Simon & Schuster.
  4. Boritt, G. S. (Ed.). (2013). The Gettysburg Nobody Knows. Oxford University Press.
  5. White, R. J. (2002). Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural. Simon & Schuster.
  6. McPherson, J. M. (1996). Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War. Oxford University Press.
  7. Dirck, B. R. (2001). Lincoln and the Constitution. University of Illinois Press.
  8. Neely Jr, M. E. (1992). The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. Oxford University Press.
  9. Oakes, J. (2012). Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865. W. W. Norton & Company.
  10. Niven, J. (Ed.). (2016). The Gettysburg Address: Perspectives on Lincoln’s Greatest Speech (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.
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Analysis Of Lincoln’s Use Of Rhetorical Strategies In The Gettysburg Address. (2021, July 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-lincolns-use-of-rhetorical-strategies-in-the-gettysburg-address/
“Analysis Of Lincoln’s Use Of Rhetorical Strategies In The Gettysburg Address.” GradesFixer, 01 Jul. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-lincolns-use-of-rhetorical-strategies-in-the-gettysburg-address/
Analysis Of Lincoln’s Use Of Rhetorical Strategies In The Gettysburg Address. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-lincolns-use-of-rhetorical-strategies-in-the-gettysburg-address/> [Accessed 20 Apr. 2024].
Analysis Of Lincoln’s Use Of Rhetorical Strategies In The Gettysburg Address [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Jul 01 [cited 2024 Apr 20]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-lincolns-use-of-rhetorical-strategies-in-the-gettysburg-address/
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