159 years ago today, the Battle of Gettysburg began in southern Pennsylvania. About two years earlier, the southern states had seceded from the United States in response to the election of Lincoln, an opponent of slavery, as president. For the seceded Confederate states, the American Civil War was almost entirely about preserving slavery, which was a massive economic factor in their cotton production. After the first military successes of the Confederates, armies of the two American states met at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. The ensuing battle was one of the bloodiest on the American continent, with nearly 50,000 casualties, and a decisive factor in the turning point of the Civil War. The Northern states were subsequently able to seize the initiative, and did not lose it until the surrender of the Southern armies in 1865.
“Four score and seven years ago” began Lincoln’s speech at the dedication of the military cemetery at Gettysburg. With just 271 words, the “Gettysburg Address” is today considered an important part of the historical-cultural heritage of the USA and a rhetorical masterpiece. With his words “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,” Lincoln swore the Civil War-ravaged Americans back to common democratic goals. The entire speech still hangs in stone today in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.