In the middle of the nineteenth century, Mark Twain spoke at the Clinton, Massachusetts Town Hall. It was the age of oratory, and Clemens packed the house. Compared to today, the president, (oops, bad analogy), Michelle and Barak might have to appear to generate a similar sensation.
Around the same time, a small Pennsylvania community landed another high profile speaker to deliver their keynote address. Former Massachusetts governor, Edward Everett, was a national political celebrity considered THE premier orator of his time. Versed in many subjects, his speeches oozed Greek philosophy and clever rhetoric. Mr. Everett savored the moment, delivering a polished, 13,000 word address. His speech lasted two hours.
As an afterthought, just a courtesy, the celebration committee invited America’s new president. When Everett finally finished, a somewhat awkward Abraham Lincoln moved to the podium to conclude the event. Over one hundred and fifty years later, Americans recognize his words:
“Four score 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.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. …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.”
Mr. Lincoln spoke for ninety seconds. His introduction and conclusion surrounded five sentences expressing what Lincoln most wanted to say. The contents of his address circulated slowly, recognized, even in their own time, as significant. Every word and phrase an integral part of the message, the Gettysburg Address remains a model of superior communication, demonstrating the power, the art of delivering the essence of an idea in a succinct, unembellished way. Lincoln’s composition, consisting of 270 words, is considered the most profound text in American history.