Lincoln's Life in Letters:
Gettysburg Address

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   Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon 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 can not dedicate— we can not consecrate— we can not 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 here 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.

A New Birth of Freedom

Almost a year after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to dedicate its new National Cemetery. The largest battle ever fought in North America had been waged there from July 1-3, 1863, and Lincoln stood on that same ground on November 19 to try and give meaning to the bloodshed. He spoke with humility about the sacrifices made there but resolved that those losses would help foster a “new birth of freedom” in America.

It became his most famous political speech and perhaps the most well-known in recorded history. The original handwritten text has been lost, but Lincoln wrote five copies over the rest of his life. This is one of those original copies, acquired by the State of Illinois in 1944 partly through pennies and nickels donated by schoolchildren.

President Lincoln stands to address excited crowd gathered below him. Lincoln holds one arm behind his back and grasps a page of paper in the other. Lincoln wears his typical black tie, jacket, waist coat and trousers.
Artist Louis Bonhajo’s depiction of Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address.
This iconic image of President Lincoln captures the wrinkles and contours of the man’s face. Lincoln’s eyes penetrate the viewer as he gazes forward.
Lincoln about two weeks before delivering the Gettysburg Address.
United States  and confederate soldiers collide during the Battle of Gettysburg. A United States  General, mounted atop a white horse, points in a direction away from battle. Fallen soldiers are trampled by the cavalry horses and fellow soldiers as the fighting commences. Hundreds of bayonets streak the distant battlefield.
A contemporary artist’s depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Ambulance Corps medics load wounded soldiers into a horse drawn wagon. Two men carry another wounded soldier on a stretcher towards the wagon. On the ground, medics care for some men while several other soldiers lie sprawled out, perhaps already dead.
Federal stretcher-bearers tend to fallen soldiers after the Battle of Gettysburg.

Mary Lincoln

The documents highlighted in this exhibit are all drawn from our own collection. The originals are in our vault and the images were created by our Papers of Abraham Lincoln project. To see more documents written to and by Lincoln from all over the world, please visit If you have a Lincoln document, or know someone who does, please reach out to us. We are always looking for new discoveries.

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