President Abraham Lincoln–What a Writer!

happy-bd-president-lincolnAbraham Lincoln’s Birthday

Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is this Sunday the 12th. (I know this dates me, but I still miss getting to celebrate Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays separately!)

Of all our U.S. Presidents, Lincoln is one of the one’s I most admire. Why?

  • He was a man of integrity.
  • He was not just faithful to God, but actually relied on him and spoke of his reliance publicly.
  • He held our country together through its greatest crisis.
  • He was gracious in victory.
  • He was a shrewd observer of humanity
  • He had a great sense of humor.
  • And, he was an awesome writer.

There are so many wonderful quotes attributed to him, for example:

“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

“With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

 

“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”

The Gettysburg Address and Parallelism

When I began teaching 7th Grade Language Arts, I was surprised to find the Gettysburg Address included in the text-book. In reading the teacher’s guide, I discovered it was there not simply to reflect its period in the history of literature, but for the purpose of teaching the literary device, parallelism.

Parallelism is a technique used to condense long, similar sentences, but even more important its use creates a dynamic rhythm in the prose.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon 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 battlefield 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, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln’s Use of Parallelism

Lincoln uses this technique to connect just two ideas:

Instead of saying: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation.
It was conceived in liberty.
In addition, it was dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

He said: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

He also uses it connect many ideas in his moving conclusion:

Instead of saying: 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.
We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.
This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.
Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

He said: 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 vainthat this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

To further complicate this sentence, one of the parallel clauses contains a parallelism of it’s own!

that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

When analyzed, this short speech is incredibly complex in structure, creating an effect that is both eloquent and memorable which has contributed to its being treasured far beyond the dedication of the battlefield that was the context for which it was created.

Your Turn

Do you have favorite quote from Abraham Lincoln ? Please use the comment box below to share it with your fellow readers.

*The selection of quotes came from: BrainyQuote, and the Gettysburg Address from: The National Park Service: Lincoln Home.

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