Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address honored the soldiers that lost their lives in the Battle of Gettysburg, which proceeded the address by almost half a year, and reinforced the belief system that the fallen soldiers were fighting for. Within this address, the grounds of the battlefield were to be established as the Soldier’s National Cemetery, but more so the people of the Union were to be motivated to continue in the struggle against the Confederates, and secure the liberty of all people subject to be governed by the United States of America. Those who witnessed the speech, citizens and soldiers of the union, were filled with anguish due to the massive causalities that took place five months prior. Lincoln’s appeal to emotion and ethics, and use of emphatic rhetorical devices and language, undeniably resolve in the inspiration to join the efforts and confirmation of the belief system of the people who not only risk their lives on the front lines for the sake of that liberty, but the inspiration of the people who compose the Union in its entirety.
The address begins with an ethical appeal. Lincoln states that the forefathers of the United States of America created this nation under the context that “all men are created equal” (1 & 2). This instantiates credibility within that ideology because the audience of this address resides in the United States of America. Lincoln is also furtherly expressing his own credibility as he is the leader of this “nation” founded upon the ideology of “liberty” (1). Establishing this credibility off the bat to the audience was imperative, and by doing so, Lincoln insured that the people who felt distrust towards him would be eased. The horrors that took place at the Battle of Gettysburg had been brewing in the minds of the audience for five months, and the grief that they all had been experience most likely turned to rage for some. By using ethos appeal, Lincoln is able to ease this emotional tension within the audience, and remind them that there is a reason that he should be believed.
The section of the address that follows the introduction turns to appeal to the emotions of the grieving crowd. Lincoln reminds his audience that the war is not over, and that there is still a fight to fight. This reminder effectively begins to incite others to join the cause. Following the reminder, Lincoln then dedicates the battlefield, which the Battle of Gettysburg took place upon, as a “final resting place” for the soldiers who were slain. This dedication and recognition of honor for the fallen soldiers appeals to all of soldiers who lost comrades in the battle, and the citizens who lost their loved ones. At the end of this dedication, Lincoln chooses specific language stating that the goal of these fallen soldiers was to affect the odds that the United States of America “might” continue on past the war (4). The use of “might,” emphasizes the reality that the Civil War was a gamble for the Union (4). This dichotomy of a gamble to a war further stresses that the Union required the odds to be in their favor if they wanted a shot at winning the Civil War. Lincoln’s use of pathos appeal is an effective strategy to target this highly emotional audience, and by doing so Lincoln comes off extremely persuasive.
After the previous section within the address, Lincoln begins the next section by using anaphora, where he states “…we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground” (6). This anaphora emphasizes the inability to grace the fallen soldiers any further than those who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg already had. The recognition of honor towards those who actively fight in pursuit of liberty is in order to appeal to the emotions of the grieving audience. Lincoln then essentially uses amplification by repeating “[consecration]” (6 & 7). The further emphasis of the battlefield being holy resonated with the audience, as it reinforced the introduction of theology into Lincoln’s argument. The audience was able to justify the immense loss through their personal belief system, which they might have previously abandoned after witnessing the horrors of war. Lincoln’s use of these two rhetorical devices, anaphora and amplification, stress the importance of the lives that were sacrificed, and how they made the battleground he stood on a holy place.
Later within this final section of his address, Lincoln returns to appeal to the audience’s emotion. Lincoln urges for the audience to carry the same “devotion” which the fallen soldiers had strode into battle with (9). After placing the fallen soldiers into a holy, honorable regard, the audience’s belief, the belief consisting of equality for all people, is further confirmed as the correct belief system. Lincoln finishes off his address with another appeal to emotion, claiming that the deaths that took place during the Battle of Gettysburg will not be “in vain,” as the Union’s devotion to their belief and will of God insured their continuity (10). This final statement appealed to the emotions of the audience due to the previous confirmation of their united beliefs. Abraham Lincoln chose the aforementioned strategies to play off the rampant emotions and strong theological beliefs in the audience, and incite them to join or continue their efforts in granting liberty to all those governed by the United States of America. The strategies pertaining to theology were especially effective at the time compared to a modern day setting as the approach to morality in the present is much more secular.
The Gettysburg Address is renowned to this day as one of the most motivating and powerful examples of speech ever given. With such brevity, Lincoln uses various appeals to his audience to end their questioning of the legitimacy pertaining to the Union’s cause. Lincoln was able to unify his audience, through his use of ethos, pathos, and other rhetorical devices, towards the goal of preserving liberty for the nation, and eventually leading the Union to victory in the Civil War.