This week the nation celebrates the 150th anniversary of one of the most famous speeches in American history. President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. The speech was one of the most important statements on human equality ever made by a U.S. President.
To commemorate the anniversary, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has started a campaign to encourage all Americans to video record themselves reciting, or saying from memory, the Gettysburg Address, and then upload the video to YouTube. Hundreds of people—including all five living U.S. Presidents, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, movie director Steven Spielberg, and even many kids—have already taken the challenge.
“It is my hope that Americans across our great nation will take this occasion to look deeper into the history and legacy of the Gettysburg Address,” says Burns.
A NATION DIVIDED
Abraham Lincoln was our country’s 16th President. He led the U.S. during the Civil War, struggling to keep the country together and to end slavery.
The Civil War began in 1861, when 11 states seceded (chose to leave) from the Union (the United States) because they believed states should be able to decide whether to allow slavery. The South formed the Confederacy and soon after went to war against the North. The Civil War lasted until 1865, when the Confederacy surrendered.
The war’s bloodiest and most famous battle took place on July 1–3, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. About 51,000 people were killed or wounded in the Battle of Gettysburg. Four-and-a-half months later, Lincoln traveled to the battlefield to dedicate a cemetery to those who had died. It was there that he delivered the Gettysburg Address. He spoke for only two minutes, stressing the importance of honoring the lives sacrificed there and the value of freedom for all Americans.
“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,” Lincoln said. “And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”
AN INSPIRING CHALLENGE
Burns got the idea for his campaign from the tiny Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont. Each year, the school’s students—boys ages 11 to 17—are challenged to memorize and publicly recite the Gettysburg Address despite having learning differences and disabilities.
“I was inspired by these students and that President Lincoln’s historic words motivated them,” says Burns.