As a politician, orator, and leader, Abraham Lincoln metaphorically (and physically) stood head and shoulders above pretty much any other, bar a select handful of people who have successfully combined all three of those attributes.
At the beginning of Lincoln’s first term of office, with the civil war underway, the future of the Union was anything but certain, and Lincoln knew that its preservation held the key to his other primary political objectives: the ending of slavery and the strengthening of the constitutional democracy laid down by the Founding Fathers.
Lincoln had to fight hard to earn respect and popularity. Like Obama today, he was renowned for his oratory. Yet unlike today, when Obama’s messages are relayed around the globe by electronic media, often before he has opened his mouth, it would take days or even months for Lincoln’s words to travel around the United States. From stump speech, to newspaper, to the people: Lincoln’s words reached across the country, inspiring men to take up arms in defence of the Union, and reassuring hope in the nation when battles were lost and men fell in their tens of thousands.
Gettysburg was an example of that. Months after the bloodiest battle of the war, Lincoln addressed a memorial gathering. How to address the sheer scale and horror of what had taken place on that site would be enough to stump the most able speech writer. Lincoln employed simple brevity in stating: “...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain”.
In a mere 272 words, Lincoln gave us one of the most effective political speeches of all time.
Myer Cohen, Fife, Scotland.