Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America (Simon & Schuster Lincoln Library)
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In a masterly work, Garry Wills shows how Lincoln reached back to the Declaration of Independence to write the greatest speech in the nation’s history.
The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration than in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln was asked to memorialize the gruesome battle. Instead he gave the whole nation “a new birth of freedom” in the space of a mere 272 words. His entire life and previous training and his deep political experience went into this, his revolutionary masterpiece.
By examining both the address and Lincoln in their historical moment and cultural frame, Wills breathes new life into words we thought we knew, and reveals much about a president so mythologized but often misunderstood. Wills shows how Lincoln came to change the world and to effect an intellectual revolution, how his words had to and did complete the work of the guns, and how Lincoln wove a spell that has not yet been broken.
on the occasion named, and, for the form of it, Wirt seems to have gathered testimony from all available living witnesses, and then, from such sentences or snatches of sentences as these witnesses could remember, as well as from his own conception of the orator’s method of expression, to have constructed the record which he handed down to us. [Pp. 150–51.] Compare that with Thucydides’ description of his own method: As for the words used about the war, in its preliminary stage or as it was
Direct democracy, a flawed system in republican theory, was rehabilitated, for its usefulness in the parliamentary reform movement, by British historians like George Grote.17 In America, a similar motion toward government by the people, not just for the republic, was signaled by an enthusiasm for Greek symbols. Bancroft became a Jacksonian Democrat when he began to apply the historical skills formed on the Attic democracy to America’s development. Walter Savage Landor recognized what was
In arresting them, all necessary force is permissible, and the law they are breaking is not negotiable (as are points of dispute between countries). On the other hand, criminals who “give themselves up” are not thought to be surrendering their basic rights, as an enemy gives up not only war aims but certain rights to an exigent conqueror. In nothing has Lincoln’s constitutional role, as conceived by himself, been so misunderstood, with such unhealthy consequences, as in his use of his military
invention: When we remember that words are sounds merely, we shall conclude that the idea of representing those sounds by marks, so that whoever should, at any time after, see the marks would understand what sounds they meant, was a bold and ingenious conception, not likely to occur to one man of a million in the run of a thousand years. And, when it did occur, a distinct mark for each word, giving twenty thousand different marks first to be learned and afterwards remembered, would follow as the
indeed of every war, that it is impossible for a people without military organization, inhabiting the cities, towns, and villages of an open country, including, of course, the natural proportion of noncombatants of either sex, and of every age, to withstand the inroad of a veteran army. What defence can be made by the inhabitants of villages mostly built of wood, of cities unprotected by walls, nay, by a population of men, however high-toned and resolute, whose aged parents demand their care,