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Rhetorical Analysis of the Gettysburg Speech

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  • Pages: 5
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  • Category: Rhetoric

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Civil War in the US ended more than 150 years ago. It ended a month after the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. He received only 40% of the total number of votes, and some states did not put him on the candidate list at all but bypassed rivals who gained the majority in some states with only a small margin. But despite a not very good start in a very difficult time, Lincoln became one of America’s most revered presidents and one of the best speakers. His most famous appeal is the Gettysburg Speech. The Gettysburg speech of Abraham Lincoln is one of the most famous speeches in the history of the United States of America. The President delivered it on November 19, 1863. It was at the opening of the National Soldier Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Four and a half months before that, the decisive Battle of Gettysburg, which ended in the victory of the northerners, took many lives.

This was a decisive turning point during the Civil War. The speech is often studied in classes at universities and business schools, and quite deservedly since there are many pearls of convincing rhetoric in its lines.

The rhetorical analysis of this speech can prove it.  The first sentence alone provides a perfect example for all who have to address to other people. Only in this initial statement, Lincoln uses four different psychological strategies of persuasion and influence on the audience. He tells the story. Studies show that stories are very effective for persuasion. In this case, the initial legendary Lincoln’s phrase is somewhat more concrete than the standard “once upon a time,” but the wording itself is not so important, the main thing is that these words inform listeners that they are about to hear a story. He begins from the point all are agreed with. Despite the fact that he had to turn to the events of eighty-seven years ago, he eventually found something in which all his listeners agreed with him. He uses powerful words. Such words as “freedom” and “all people are born equal” are taken directly from the document, to which the Americans, both then and now, experience exceptional piety – from the Declaration of Independence, so it was an almost involuntary reaction to agree with it.

He begins from the point that connects him and other people. He uses the pronoun “our.” Throughout his two-minute speech, Lincoln uses the first-person plural pronouns that help to establish contact and create a sense of community. There are very interesting studies showing that this type of pronoun increased the status of a speaker in the eyes of his auditory. James Pennebaker learns the vocabulary of different people. More specifically, how they use such “auxiliary” parts of speech as pronouns and articles. His research strikes imagination and is applicable to virtually all areas of life. He writes that “In any communication between two people, a person with a higher status uses fewer pronouns I.” Can it be applied to the Gettysburg Speech? Is it possible to assert that using the word “our” in the early stage of communication and lavishly pronouncing all its subsequent speech with the first-person plural pronunciations, Lincoln effectively won the high position, significance and confidence of the audience? It is difficult to answer. It is not possible to unequivocally say whether Lincoln chose them intentionally or this decision was purely intuitive, but it is obvious that he avoided the word “I” and actively relied on “we,” gaining the respect of listeners on a subconscious level.

Lincoln provides compelling reasons. All his appeal answers the question “Why?” For actions people need reasons, and he gave them not one, but even several. His convincing list of secret “because” left an imprint not only in the memory of his audience but also on the whole American history.

The full text of the Gettysburg Speech is carved on a stone slab that is part of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. This speech is one of the best because of its persuasiveness and strong motivation. The speaker persuaded his listeners in the following things. None of the soldiers died in vain, and these sacrifices are necessary to protect freedom and democracy. Listeners agreed with the feelings of Lincoln. The main topics around which Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech centered were American Civil War, freedom and democracy, and the Battle of

Dale Carnegie describes in his book how Lincoln prepared for his famous Gettysburg speech. Nobody expected such magnitude and depth from Lincoln’s speech. Nobody expected from the president that his speech would be among the most striking ones in the history of our time. A few weeks before the ceremony, members of the commission asked
Lincoln to “make some remarks appropriate to the occasion.” Lincoln continually pondered his speech. He constantly wrote down his thoughts on sheets of paper during preparation. When interesting thoughts came to Lincoln’s head, he wrote them down on scraps of paper and stacked them in a hat. Next, he carefully examined the records from the hat. Before preparing for the famous Gettysburg speech, which consists of only 10 immortal sentences, the great orator developed it for long hours, constantly returning to a new formulation. Lincoln’s speech is based on very simple principles of oratorical skills, but it has lifted the spirit and self-esteem of the whole nation. This is the standard of oratorical skill, which is expressed in just a few sentences.

The Gettysburg speech became famous due to the meaning and feelings invested in it. He argued that a civil war was not a battle for some states against others, but a “revival of freedom,” a path to the true equality of all people in the entire state. According to eyewitnesses, the statement was so confident, bright, strong and memorable that the present people had no doubts that the victims were not in vain, that a high price is necessary to preserve the united state and values bequeathed to future generations by those who fought a little earlier for American independence.

Lincoln became a great speaker not only because he knew what to say. He also had a deep knowledge of the effect that his words would have on the audience, prompting it to act. He understood the thinking of his listeners. We should also go beyond our own attitudes, feelings, and desires and master the art of speaking in accordance with the position of other people to learn how to communicate in business and life.


  • Gettysburg Address – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_Address
  • The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln, http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm
  • The Gettysburg Address – American Civil War – HISTORY.com, http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/gettysburg-address
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