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Rhetorical Analysis Essay On The Gettysburg Address

Presentation on theme: "Gettysburg Address Rhetorical Analysis Workshop"— Presentation transcript:

1 Gettysburg Address Rhetorical Analysis Workshop
AP Language and Composition

2 Some Historical Context
The Gettysburg Address is a speech by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and is one of the best-known speeches in United States history. It was delivered by Lincoln during the American Civil War, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the decisive Battle of Gettysburg.

3 Background Info…Abraham Lincoln's carefully crafted address, secondary to other presentations that day, came to be regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history. In just over two minutes, Lincoln invoked the principles of human equality espoused by the Declaration of Independence and redefined the Civil War as a struggle not merely for the Union, but as "a new birth of freedom" that would bring true equality to all of its citizens, and that would also create a unified nation in which states' rights were no longer dominant.

4 Breaking Down Lincoln’s Speech…
The speech begins with a reference to time, using the biblical measure “score” (20 years)- thus Lincoln immediately aligns himself with the founding fathers (July 1776). The nation, and the notion of Liberty are being tested during the Civil War. The reference of “fathers” in the first sentence suggests family, claiming that the United States is a family that should not be broken apart. Using ethos, Lincoln creates a framework that aligns himself with the likes of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.

5 The Speech…..The first paragraph begins with two long sentences and ends on a short, factual statement: “We are met on this great battlefield of war.” The next paragraph includes a transition (to dedicate a portion of that field) and moves into the purpose of the speech: to dedicate the battlefield as a memorial to the fallen soldiers.

6 The Speech….In paragraph two, the parallel “we cannot” statements pull attention away from the audience and the speaker (“we” can’t really do anything…the soldiers are already dead). The parallel statements underline the importance of Lincoln’s theme: the great honor and sacrifice of the soldiers who have died fighting for Liberty.

7 The Speech…The last paragraph is a call for the Union to complete their “unfinished work.” Solders are weary and tired of war, yet must push on to honor the notion of Liberty established by the founding fathers.He states three parallel phrases that are justly famous: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” In other words, people make up the government, they wield the power, and they act in the people’s interests.

8 The Speech…He ends on a rousing affirmation of the Union and the work to be done. Lincoln declares that the United States and its system of government “shall not perish from this earth.”

9 Your Job….How does Lincoln establish his rhetorical appeals? (logos, ethos, pathos)In addition, take notes that analyze STD’s (Syntax, Tone, Diction).

10 How does Lincoln establish logos?
Premise 1: the United States government was created under the pillar of Liberty.Premise 2: Now we are engaged in a Civil War that is challenging our notion of Liberty.Conclusion: Gettysburg sucked, but we gotta win. Democracy rocks.

11 How Does Lincoln establish pathos?
The emotional appeal to honor the fallen, and never forget the importance of their struggle for freedom and Liberty.

12 How Does Lincoln establish ethos?
Our founding fathers conceived our country based out of Liberty. I’m president now, so I am a decedent of those ideals, the concept of democracy in practice (you all voted for me!)

13 Setting Up A Thesis: Have you included author, title?
Have you addressed the task: “Lincoln's point of view?”Have you specifically mentioned the literary elements you will refer to in your essay?

14 A Sample…In the “Gettysburg Address,” Lincoln presents a picture of a nation mourning the tremendous loss of lives during the battle of Gettysburg. Through the rhetorical appeals of pathos, logos, and a somber tone, Lincoln makes it clear that the United States must persevere in order to keep Liberty and freedom.

15 Paragraph StructureLit TermExample from textAnalysis of example

16 Writing the Body of The Essay
What should I include in the body of the analysis essay?Connect each body paragraph to what you’ve outlined specifically in your thesis statement (your rhetorical devices.) After introducing your rhetorical device, provide an example (direct quotation) and then provide a detailed analysis of how it works within the piece. DO NOT SIMPLY SUMMARIZE!

17 Body Paragraph Formula To Use: “ACE”
A: Argument (what point are you trying to make?) Example: Lincoln’s use of a somber tone helps shape the overall pathos of the speech.C: Cite (cite your argument. This is usually a “direct quotation” or a paraphrased example).E: Emphasize (this is your analysis. It should be the longest section of your paragraph because here you are connecting your evidence directly back up to your thesis statement. The more analysis the better!)

18 An Example…Throughout the passage, Lincoln develops a somber and mournful tone that sets the stage for the severity of the events that happened at Gettysburg. Lincoln establishes such diction through his use of words such as “consecrate” and “hallow ground.” He shifts the tone of the speech with images of rebirth by using figurative language such as “conceive,” and “It is for us, the living” to not only look forward to the future but to remind his audience of the tenants of Liberty, democracy, and other ideals established by the forefathers of the country. In doing so, Lincoln does not dismiss the mournful tone of such an occasion, but is able to transcend the significance of such horrifying events.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous, most quoted, and most recited speeches of all time. It is also one of the shortest among its peers at just 10 sentences.

In this article, we examine five key lessons which you can learn from Lincoln’s speech and apply to your own speeches.

This is the latest in a series of speech critiques here on Six Minutes.

Speech Critique – Gettysburg Address – Abraham Lincoln

I encourage you to:

  1. Watch the video with a recitation by Jeff Daniels;
  2. Read the analysis in this speech critique, as well as the speech transcript below; and
  3. Share your thoughts on this speech in the comment section.

Lesson #1 – Anchor Your Arguments Solidly

When trying to persuade your audience, one of the strongest techniques you can use is to anchor your arguments to statements which your audience believes in. Lincoln does this twice in his first sentence:

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. [1]

Among the beliefs which his audience held, perhaps none were stronger than those put forth in the Bible and Declaration of Independence. Lincoln knew this, of course, and included references to both of these documents.

First, Psalm 90 verse 10 states:

The days of our years are threescore years and ten

(Note: a “score” equals 20 years. So, the verse is stating that a human life is about 70 years.)

Therefore, Lincoln’s “Four score and seven years ago” was a Biblically evocative way of tracing backwards eighty-seven years to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. That document contains the following famous line:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

By referencing both the Bible and the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln is signalling that if his audience trusts the words in those documents (they did!), then they should trust his words as well.

How can you use this lesson? When trying to persuade your audience, seek out principles on which you agree and beliefs which you share. Anchor your arguments from that solid foundation.

Lesson #2 – Employ Classic Rhetorical Devices

Lincoln employed simple techniques which transformed his words from bland to poetic. Two which we’ll look at here are triads and contrast.

First, he uttered two of the most famous triads ever spoken:

  • “…we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.” [6]
  • “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” [10]

Second, he uses contrast wonderfully:

  • “… for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.” [4]
    (the death of the soldiers contrasts with the life of the nation)
  • “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” [8]
    (remember contrasts forget; say contrasts did)

How can you use this lesson? While the stately prose of Lincoln’s day may not be appropriate for your next speech, there is still much to be gained from weaving rhetorical devices into your speech. A few well-crafted phrases often serve as memorable sound bites, giving your words an extended life.

Lesson #3 – Repeat Your Most Important Words

“When trying to persuade your audience, seek out principles on which you agree and beliefs which you share. Anchor your arguments from that solid foundation.”

In the first lesson, we’ve seen how words can be used to anchor arguments by referencing widely held beliefs.

In the second lesson, we’ve seen how words can be strung together to craft rhetorical devices.

Now, we’ll turn our attention to the importance of repeating individual words. A word-by-word analysis of the Gettysburg Address reveals the following words are repeated:

  • we: 10 times
  • here: 8 times
  • dedicate (or dedicated): 6 times
  • nation: 5 times

While this may not seem like much, remember that his entire speech was only 271 words.

By repetitive use of these words, he drills his central point home: Like the men who died here, we must dedicate ourselves to save our nation.

  • “we” creates a bond with the audience (it’s not about you or I, it’s about us together)
  • “here” casts Gettysburg as the springboard to propel them forward
  • “dedicate” is more powerful than saying “we must try to do this”
  • “nation” gives the higher purpose

How can you use this lesson? Determine the words which most clearly capture your central argument. Repeat them throughout your speech, particularly in your conclusion and in conjunction with other rhetorical devices. Use these words in your marketing materials, speech title, speech introduction, and slides as well. Doing so will make it more likely that your audience will [a] “get” your message and [b] remember it.

Lesson #4 – Use a Simple Outline

The Gettysburg Address employs a simple and straightforward three part speech outline: past, present, future.

  • Past: The speech begins 87 years in the past, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the formation of a new nation. [1]
  • Present: The speech then describes the present context: the civil war, a great battlefield (Gettysburg), and a dedication ceremony. The new nation is being tested. [2-8]
  • Future: Lincoln paints a picture of the future where the promise of the new nation is fully realized through a desirable relationship between government and the people. [9-10]

Note that “the nation” is the central thread tying all three parts together.

How can you use this lesson? When organizing your content, one of the best approaches is one of the simplest. Go chronological.

  • Start in the past, generally at a moment of relative prosperity or happiness.
  • Explain how your audience came to the present moment. Describe the challenge, the conflict, or the negative trend.
  • Finally, describe a more prosperous future, one that can be realized if your audience is persuaded to action by you.

And, speaking of being persuaded to act…

Lesson #5 – State a Clear Call-to-Action

The final sentences of the Gettysburg Address are a rallying cry for Lincoln’s audience. Although the occasion of the gathering is to dedicate a war memorial (a purpose to which Lincoln devotes many words in the body of his speech), that is not Lincoln’s full purpose. He calls his audience to “be dedicated here to the unfinished work” [8], to not let those who died to “have died in vain” [10]. He implores them to remain committed to the ideals set forth by the nation’s founding fathers.

How can you use this lesson? The hallmark of a persuasive speech is a clear call-to-action. Don’t hint at what you want your audience to do. Don’t imply. Don’t suggest. Clearly state the actions that, if taken, will lead your audience to success and prosperity.

Speech Transcript – Gettysburg Address – Abraham Lincoln

[1] 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.

[2] Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

[3] We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

[4] 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.

[5] It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

[6] But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.

[7] The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

[8] The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

Other Critiques of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

For further reading, you may enjoy these excellent analyses:

  • Nick Morgan — The greatest 250-word speech ever written
  • John Zimmer — The Gettysburg Address: An Analysis
  • Christopher Graham — A poetical analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address


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This article is one of a series of speech critiques of inspiring speakers featured on Six Minutes.
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Andrew Dlugan is the editor and founder of Six Minutes. He teaches courses, leads seminars, coaches speakers, and strives to avoid Suicide by PowerPoint. He is an award-winning public speaker and speech evaluator. Andrew is a father and husband who resides in British Columbia, Canada.

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