Words Behind Lincoln’s Great Speeches

Lincoln

Today Abraham Lincoln is widely recognized as one of the great American orators. He didn't use lofty and verbose language, but rather Lincoln's speeches were--and continue to be--powerful because they are clear and direct. His other trick was using very precise and powerful words. What are some of his best-chosen words and the speeches they come from? Find out. . .

Posterity

When Lincoln was only 28, he was already a member of the Illinois State Legislature. In one of Lincoln's early public addresses at the Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838, he exhorted his audience to remember that: "This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform." After his Lyceum Address, Lincoln continued to be a country lawyer before entering politics again decades later.

Endure

When Lincoln was running against his rival Stephen Douglas for a seat in the Senate, he gave his famous "House Divided" speech. The lecture was based on a verse from the Christian Bible from Mark 3:25. Its most famous line was: "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free." Lincoln lost that Senate race, but the word endure is used repeatedly in Lincoln's addresses, including in the Gettysburg Address. What other words were important in that short powerful speech?

Consecrate

Lincoln's most famous speech is fewer than 300 words. The Gettysburg Address is a lesson in brevity and power. In one of the most moving passages, Lincoln used one precise word twice: "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." (Read the entire speech here.) What other word did Lincoln repeat in this brief address?

Conceive

Throughout his career in politics and law, Lincoln often recalled the struggles of the Revolutionary War and the generation of soldiers, revolutionaries and politicians who fought it. Reminding his listeners of that time, Lincoln recalls the values of the founding fathers: "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." What kind words did he remind us of in his last major speech?

Charity

Six weeks before he was assassinated, Lincoln gave his second inaugural address. He concludes with one of the most famous passages of American history: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

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