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Rhetorical Analysis of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”
Essays, speeches and advertisements all have one thing in common, and that is rhetorical appeals. There are three proofs of rhetoric which are pathos, ethos, and logos. Pathos appeals to emotion, ethos is the use of character, and logos appeals to reason. The “Gettysburg Address” given by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, is a prime example of a speech that uses pathos, ethos and logos.
It is important to understand the rhetorical situation before analyzing the rhetorical appeals. The audience that Abraham Lincoln intended his speech for was the whole nation. The “Gettysburg Address” was a tribute to all the fallen soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. The purpose was not to celebrate a Union victory or criticize the South, but to honor the battle by reminding people that the soldiers fought for freedom and equality. The author of the speech is Abraham Lincoln who was the President of the United States at the time. Although Lincoln’s job was to deliver a few remarks after Edward Everett’s grand speech, he delivered a speech full of rhetoric that will be remembered forever.
President Abraham Lincoln does an outstanding job of using pathos in his speech. The setting and the audience were very emotional coming off a battle that left 8,000 men dead. It was very easy for Abraham Lincoln to use pathos in his speech to remember the fallen soldiers, and comfort the audience. He evoked emotions such as sadness, admiration, humbleness, rejuvenation and commemoration. Abraham Lincoln uses many small common words such as the word “we” instead of “I” or “you” to unite the audience. For example, he says: “We are met on a great battle-field”, “We are engaged in a great civil war”, “We have come to dedicate”, “We should do this”. He is extremely effective in appealing to the audience’s emotion by using respectful language such as “nobly,” “devotion,” “hallow,” and “honored”. This honorific language incites powerful emotions by making the audience feel prideful and appreciative of the soldier’s sacrifices. Lincoln meant his speech to be a smaller part of a bigger picture which was to make the crowd feel obligated to fight for the sacrifices of the fallen soldiers. “But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate- we cannot consecrate- we cannot hallow- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract” (Lincoln). He makes the audience feel compassionate for the people who have witnessed and endured this costly battle. He tells them that they have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up their lives for a noble cause, and there is no way a living person can pay that back with just words, and no action. This inspires the audience to honor the sacrifices of the military, and reminds them that they are the true heroes. Another example when Lincoln makes the audience feel compassionate for the fallen men at Gettysburg is when he says: “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 nobly advanced” (Lincoln). This is also an example of Lincoln making the crowd feel obligated to fight for the sacrifices of the fallen soldiers. Lincoln knew of the pain and displeasure that the crowd was feeling after such a long and tiring war with so many losses. He mentioned how tough it is to deal with a long war even for a nation that is “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” (Lincoln). Lincoln did not mention details of the battle but instead spoke of the “final resting place” that those people came to sanctify. Lincoln did not need to describe the battle to his audience because the people were there and could see all the lives lost. It was a very emotional event and Lincoln did an excellent job using pathos in his speech so he could appeal to the audience’s emotion during this time of grief.
Although ethos is not used directly in the speech, it is already implied because the audience respect his authority and trustworthiness because he is the President of the United States. He is a great speaker who is very knowledgeable about what he is speaking about, and he was known for being honest and kind. He uses short sentences and repeatedly uses the word “we” to make the audience feel involved. He spoke as if he was on the same level as the people in the crowd instead of acting superior because he was the President. He connects with the audience directly when asking them for more commitment to help with the war. What helped spread this message was Lincoln’s reputation of being respectable, honest, and supportive of the soldiers. The beginning of the speech, Lincoln mentions a line from the Declaration of Independence when he says: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal” (Lincoln). He shows credibility to the audience by stating the proposition made by the Founding Fathers, and he discusses whether the government can maintain this equality. The audience had extreme respect for the Founding Fathers, and Lincoln mentions that what they wanted was equality for all as stated in the Declaration of Independence. This was a radical idea in 1863 because the Constitution said nothing about equality. The Confederates argued that the Constitution didn’t ban slavery, but Lincoln points out that the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, and not the Constitution. Lincoln gains trust from his audience by bringing up the true meaning of a historical event that they trust and believe in. He also gains the crowd’s trust when he says that these men sacrificed their lives giving every bit of loyalty. “--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” (Lincoln). He lets the audience know that it is their responsibility to not let them die in vain. Lincoln appreciates the people in the audience and he encourages them to unite together for the sake of the fallen soldiers: “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” (Lincoln). Lincoln is again putting the pressure on his crowd by saying it is time to step up, and finish what they fought for. Even though Lincoln was the President and there was an established respect for him, the use of common words, and his connection with the crowd really brought out his ethos.
Abraham Lincoln also uses logos in his speech to appeal to his audience’s sense of reason. He brings up the fact that our founding fathers brought together this nation on unity, and it has been destructed by the Civil War. It was reasonable for Lincoln to give his address on the battlefield of Gettysburg where many lives were lost, and it was reasonable to consecrate the battlefield in honor of those noble and brave men who lost their lives. Lincoln brings up logical points such as freedom and equality are worth fighting for. He reminds his crowd the reason the men were fighting for when he says: “This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that this government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth” (Lincoln). He uses a sense of logic stating that it is possible to have a new birth of freedom as a nation, and to create a long lasting government that is meant to serve the people. He uses the example of a government that is created by the people, for the people, and many would agree that idea makes sense. He gets the audience to believe that equality and liberty are noble characteristics that others have fought for, and they should continue fighting for them. He also brings up facts stating that they are in the Civil War: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure” (Lincoln). He brings up the fact that they are in a civil war as evidence that their perseverance is being tested. He wants the audience to believe that they can push through this struggle, and keep the nation united and equal. President Lincoln doesn’t use logos a lot, but he uses it effectively so he can appeal to his crowd’s reason, and motivate them to keep fighting for freedom, and maintain the Union.
Abraham Lincoln did a phenomenal job of using pathos, ethos, and logos in his “Gettysburg Address”. Even though Lincoln thought that nobody would remember this speech, it still lives on as one of the greatest pieces of rhetoric in American history. It is amazing how the speech was only 272 words and most of them were common small words, yet he was still able to get his point across in such a powerful way. He also managed to effectively use ethos, pathos, and logos to connect with his audience, and make them believe in his message. What makes it such a great speech is how concise and eloquent he was during this tough time. The speech was only three minutes long, and his job was to add some final remarks to Edward Everett’s two hour speech. However, his speech was so beautiful that Everett wrote him a letter praising him for it, and people started to realize its true significance long after it was said and done. Lincoln did more than just memorialize the soldiers, he transformed the meaning of the Civil War. The Constitution was transformed after this important speech, and the use of rhetorical appeals by Abraham Lincoln has kept the “Gettysburg Address” as one of the greatest speeches in history!
Lincoln, Abraham. “The Gettysburg Address.” 19 Nov. 1863. Abraham Lincoln Online. 29 Jan. 2017https://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/.