Am 19. November 1863 hält der 16te Präsident der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika, Abraham Lincoln, auf dem Friedhof von Gettysburg eine Rede, die in die Geschichte der USA eingeht. Sie ist nur 12 Sätze lang und hat Überlieferungen zufolge nur 2 Minuten gedauert.
1] Fourscore 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.
 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 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.
Um die die Verständlichkeit der Rede auch für schwächere Schüler zu gewährleisten, kommt hier die deutsche Übersetzung (Quelle Wikipedia):
Vor 87 Jahren gründeten unsere Väter auf diesem Kontinent eine neue Nation, in Freiheit gezeugt und dem Grundsatz geweiht, dass alle Menschen gleich geschaffen sind.
Nun stehen wir in einem großen Bürgerkrieg, der eine Probe dafür ist, ob diese oder jede andere so gezeugte und solchen Grundsätzen geweihte Nation dauerhaft Bestand haben kann. Wir haben uns auf einem großen Schlachtfeld dieses Krieges versammelt. Wir sind gekommen, um einen Teil dieses Feldes jenen als letzte Ruhestätte zu weihen, die hier ihr Leben gaben, damit diese Nation leben möge. Es ist nur recht und billig, dass wir dies tun.
Doch in einem höheren Sinne können wir diesen Boden nicht weihen, können wir ihn nicht segnen, können wir ihn nicht heiligen. Die tapferen Männer, Lebende wie Tote, die hier kämpften, haben ihn weit mehr geweiht, als dass unsere schwachen Kräfte dem etwas hinzufügen oder etwas davon wegnehmen könnten. Die Welt wird wenig Notiz davon nehmen, noch sich lange an das erinnern, was wir hier sagen, aber sie kann niemals vergessen, was jene hier taten. Es ist vielmehr an uns, den Lebenden, das unvollendete Werk weiterzuführen, das diejenigen, die hier kämpften, so weit und so edelmütig vorangebracht haben. Es ist vielmehr an uns, der großen Aufgabe geweiht zu werden, die noch vor uns liegt – auf dass uns die edlen Toten mit wachsender Hingabe erfüllen für die Sache, der sie das höchste Maß an Hingabe erwiesen haben – auf dass wir hier feierlich beschließen, dass diese Toten nicht vergebens gestorben sein sollen – auf dass diese Nation, unter Gott, eine Wiedergeburt der Freiheit erleben soll – und auf dass die Regierung des Volkes, durch das Volk und für das Volk, nicht von der Erde verschwinden möge.
Interpretation (zur Verfügung gestellt von einer Schülerin der 12. Klasse Gymnasium):
On November 19th 1863 Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America, gave his famous „Gettysburg Adress“. During the dedication ceremony for the National Cemetery of Gettysburg Lincoln honored the fallen soldiers of the civil war and reminded the nation that their fight for freedom was still lasting.
Lincoln started his speech by employing a very poetic language. He uses „four score and seven“ instead of „Eighty-seven“. In using this expression he achieves a much more elegant and noble tone, whilst speaking about the successful Independence War, which the citizens of the young american nation fought against the British, 87 years ago. He linked the current situation he found himself in 1863 with the decisive Independence War which opened the Americans a hopeful future.
In speaking about the „new nation“ growing in liberty and freedom he reminded the audience of the ideals and basis the US were founded. His flashback of 87 years is a important structural element of the speech because it opens the audience’s mind for the view on their present situation. He gave hope that the people of his time would be able to reach aims as big as the victory over Britain was. It is a well chosen set up to the next paragraph.
Nevertheless he marked the civil war as a challenge. Lincoln claims the values of the young nation to be under attack. The enduring fight to defend the founding principles is a significant one. In employing the words „or any other nation“ he emphasizes that such a battle is possible to be fought by any other nation willing to live in freedom and equality. He extended that the battle is of international appeal. He justified the war by creating the impression that the fighting soldiers of the North fought for a greater aim, for all nations willing to live free. He connected the victory and the winning of the battle with the surviving of the whole nation itself. He insists the nation could only endure if the battle is won.
In turning to the fallen soldiers on the field of Gettysburg he changes the view of the audience. He contrasts life and death in using the words „those who here gave their ives that this nation might live“. Without choosing the words life and death, he gained the same effect by a metaphor in meaning and a parallelism in structure. Contrast, metaphor and parallelism achieve a compelling direct effect on all those present. There is so much energy in this contrast that the audience must have been fully engaged. To attain more effect Lincoln also uses consonance or alliteration within his speech applying words with the letter „F“ i.e. battlefield, field, final, for and fitting. He rounded this part of the speech off in a matter of sound.
Moreover within the next section of the speech the President uses a climax when speaking about the meaning of the ground they were standing on. The triple „can not dedicate… can not consecrate … can not hallow“ shows the power of a accelerating element in a public speaking. Lincoln achieved a better memorability in structuring the words as he did. The overview is as brilliant as the trinity of liberty, freedom and equality in the first paragraph. Still in reading it, it is possible to feel the powerful cadence.
Lincoln demonstrated high respect for the soldiers wether the were fallen or still discharging their duty on the battlefield. He reduces his own importance and heightens the meaning of those fighting for the Union. The alliteration „poor power“ helps him to underline his request. He again uses the structural element of contrast telling the audience „the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here“. Again he transfers the fighting of the Union to something larger than the US. He asserts that Mankind will never forget about their service.
As a casual remark there is to say that Lincoln was wrong at that point. His words had become a part of the cultural heritage of the US.
Telling the audience not to rest, he maintained that the battle wasn’t still won. He spoke about the „unfinished work“ that had to be completed. Within the last paragraph the vocabulary used by Lincoln is becoming much more poetic then in the middle part of the speech. He employs words as „dedicated, nobly, great, honored, devotion, god, birth and freedom“. The effect on the listener is obviously to make him feel being part of something particular, something historic.
There are are two more contrasts to analyze. He juxtaposed „the living“ with the „honored dead“ as well as „these dead shall not have died in vain“ with „this nation shall have a new birth of freedom“. He perks up the value of their death and the value of the living. He reaches the peak of his speech turning over to the ideals of democracy. Again he employs a triple climax to emphasize the relation between the founding principles of the US, the fighting soldiers on the battlefield and the nation as a whole. The effect of this ending is tremendous. He manages to give an implicit view on democracy in future and his words seem to give all Americans just one possible single aim to fight for: the power of the people under the principles of the Union.