In the year 1863, the American Civil War is at its midway point when the iconic “Gettysburg Address” is delivered by Abraham Lincoln. The address comes on the heels of a Union victory at the battle of Gettysburg, which is considered today to be the most important engagements of the American Civil War. The Gettysburg Address is one of the most famed pieces of literature in all of American history; it instilled the beliefs of Lincoln through great literary prowess and extraordinary delivery. The address has been analyzed countless times and still shows a direct relation to the events of today. Lincoln uses the appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos in his address to effectively appeal to the masses and ultimately to inspire the people of his young United States to come together as one.
First off, it is important to identify the audience of the text and the author. The author of the Gettysburg Address is none other than Abraham Lincoln. The importance of this is the fact that Lincoln, to this day, is considered to be one of the most favored and influential presidents to ever hold office. His work during the civil war and his contributions in the freedom of slaves is indisputable. Those are factors that enabled the address to connect with its audience. In the address, Lincoln appeals to his audience ethically by saying, “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.” He uses this part of the address to appeal with ethos. Lincoln is appealing to the audience’s moral obligation and sense of duty to honor the dead. This clearly displays his character and credibility. By appealing to his audience with an ethical approach, he is directly appealing to fact that he knows he is respected. By doing this, he is drawing for a sense of patriotism which, at the time, is in dire need. The audience is also very important in this text. Lincoln understands that he is not only speaking directly to many of his existing supporters, but also to his opposition. By using the appeal of ethos, it is possible for him to reach both sides, regardless of their position.
Next, in terms of appeals it is important to discuss pathos. Lincoln uses a couple of different examples of this throughout his address. The first example of this is when he says, “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.” This is a very important example, because he highlights the fact that there has been such an outrageous amount of bloodshed that has yet to prove itself justified. The quote pries directly at the grief that lives have been needlessly sacrificed. This is where the next example come through. Lincoln continues with a quote that says, “…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.” This is a direct appeal to the audience’s hope, willpower and devotion. It is meant to inspire the audience and rally them to support the Union in the war. Another part of this address and quote that is not often brought up is the fact that Lincoln wrote with religious implications in his writing. As stated in the quote, he relates religion to politics by saying “that this nation, under God…” This sentence directly mentions God, but in other parts of the address Lincoln found ways to imply religious virtue or belief. In an article called “Kings and Charisma, Lincoln and Leadership: An Evolutionary Perspective” by George R. Goethals, it is explained how Lincoln’s language usage and implications are directly related to religion. Goethals says that, “The speech then, is laced with religious, quasi-religious, and biblical wording. Such wording struck a familiar chord, creating a positive association. It helped produce a charismatic emotional reaction…” This is applicable to the time period because religion was very important in terms of what people believed in or supported. This allowed for a deeper connection, based on religion, to many of the Americans who are not in his support and may be won over to his side by that factor alone.
To follow, the appeal of logos can also be found in the address. This appears when Lincoln 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 so nobly advanced.” Although this could be argued as an ethos appeal, it can also be applied as logos, because Lincoln is explaining that future generations of the nation will not consider what was said in Gettysburg. That does not mean, however, that they will not consider what has happened. Through that, he is acknowledging the fact that their struggles are significant and that those who are living have the responsibility to conclude the war themselves and take up the reigns that the dead have left for them. His logos argument is that it is apparent on both sides that the lives lost are not meaningless and that there must be a resolution to all this bloodshed as soon as possible. This is a logos appeal because he is implying that it is logical for people to see that meaningless death is unnecessary. That is how Lincoln logically draws a conclusion of the bloodshed to the audience.
Finally, it is important to discuss the reaction and impact that the address has had and why that may be. Simply put, the Address was an indispensable and irreplaceable moment for the Union during the American Civil War. It explains, in short, that Americans need to band together in order to prevent more bloodshed and loss of unity. An interesting thing to consider when reading and analyzing the address is that all of these appeals are so moving, yet they may be indirect. They show the clear emotional, logical, and ethical beliefs that Lincoln held. In an article by Harold Zyskind, called “A rhetorical analysis of the Gettysburg Address,” Orton H. Carmichael is quoted in saying “the address will last through time—because, in his words, ‘Truth only is eternal.’ He here obviously is treating the speech as political philosophy.” This approach to the address is very interesting. By looking at the address from a philosophical perspective, it is possible for the reader to understand Lincoln intentions clearly. This is where intentions become crucial. In the article, “The rhetorical situation” by Lloyd F. Bitzer, the importance of context in the address is clearly explained. Bitzer says that “Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address a most fitting response to the relevant features of the historic context which invited its existence and gave it rhetorical significance.” Bitzer is addressing the fact that context correlates directly to relevance and importance. Bitzer continues to explain that the Address, if held separated from the context, “becomes either poetry or declamation, without rhetorical significance.” That is how the context of the address directly influences is impact and significance.
In conclusion, the Gettysburg Address is one of the most influential pieces of the United States’ history and evidently has transcended far beyond its intended audience. The appeals of Abraham Lincoln are clear, concise, and hard-hitting. Through Lincoln’s use of ethos, he is calling on the people of the nation to take a stand and fulfill their moral obligation to their country based on a call to action from President of the United States. The Gettysburg address proves time and time again to be an inspiration to those who read it. During his pathos appeal, Lincoln’s discussion of meaningless bloodshed helps to connect with the emotions of those who may have lost loved ones or may be on the way to the battlefield themselves. Then, by discussing the reality of the death toll and how it may be remembered, he logically explains that there will be repercussions for the actions that have occurred regardless of the longevity of his speech. Along with that, the application of ethos, pathos, and logos are apparent throughout and can be thoroughly analyzed. From a literary standpoint, the context of the address was crucial. The address allowed for Lincoln to use his platform as president to address the majority of the nation. His words rang true in the mind of countless Americans and helped to shape the rest of the American Civil War. The address was written and delivered over 150 years ago, but its relevance still shows true. That is why the Gettysburg Address has lived on. Based on the actions of the United States government that have transpired in the past twenty years, it apparent that Lincoln’s speech should still be heard and taken to heart. His message of unity and intent to inspire should be embodied by those who hold office today. With a more unified approach to politics as a whole, it may be possible to consolidate the nation and as a result be the great nation that Lincoln once spoke of.
Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The rhetorical situation.” Philosophy & rhetoric (1992): 1-14.
Goethals, George R., and Scott T. Allison. “Kings and charisma, Lincoln and leadership: An evolutionary perspective.” Conceptions of leadership. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2014. 111-124.
Zyskind, Harold. “A rhetorical analysis of the Gettysburg Address.” The Journal of General Education 4.3 (1950): 202-212.
“The Gettysburg Address.” Edited by Margaret Nichols, The Gettysburg Address, 2013, rmc.library.cornell.edu/gettysburg/good_cause/transcript.htm.