When you think of the Gettysburg Address, I bet you think of that famous speech by Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago. Right? Wrong. The Gettysburg Address was actually a two-hour oration by Edward Everett, a highly educated, well-respected politician of the time. He’d been a strong voice in support of the Lincoln administration and the cause of liberty for slaves. At Gettysburg, he gave a stirring speech, perhaps the most important address of his life and career.
When the applause subsided, a tired old gentleman approached the podium as the second speaker. He spoke for only two minutes, including five interruptions for applause. Abraham Lincoln’s remarks were officially only the presidential remarks that followed the Gettysburg Address, but his 272 words that day were so profound that the speech has endured as the greatest American address ever given. Today we all ascribe the title of the Gettysburg Address to Mr. Lincoln.
Even Edward Everett himself acknowledged that Lincoln’s brief words had eclipsed his own. The day following the Gettysburg event, he wrote a note to the president that read, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Abraham Lincoln, through hard study and practice, became a master of profound brevity. He could not only develop and make a point in one or two sentences, he could carry his message on the wings of authority or humor directly to the heart of understanding.