Abraham Lincoln: The Birth of a Public Speaking Legend

By Andrew Ivey | Public Speaking

Feb 12
Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln in 1809. Born to a poor family in Kentucky he served one term as a United States Congressman and tried unsuccessfully to be elected a US Senator on two occasions. He campaigned for the Presidency in 1860 on an anti-slavery platform, vowing to cease its expansion or end it altogether.

With the Presidency won he then fought his stiffest test as war with the Southern slave-owning States broke out.

His 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, declaring the freedom of more than 3 million slaves, preceded his steering of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution that abolished the ownership of slaves altogether.

His public speaking remains alive today with the 1863 Gettysburg Address probably the most quoted, noted and cited speech in history…not counting Shakespeare’s “Friends, Romans, Countrymen.”

The Gettysburg Address, on November 19th 1863, came four months after the decisive battle of Gettysburg and involved the consecration of ground for the new military cemetery there. His speech was undoubtedly secondary on the running order for the day. And at only two minutes in length, no doubt he might have thought it secondary.

There are five remaining manuscripts of the speech. Each one is different in some way. And each, in turn, differs somewhat from contemporary surviving newspaper reports.

Their background is undeniably authentic. Two copies came from the possessions of two of Lincoln’s secretaries, two copies came from versions prepared later by Lincoln for speech anthologies and one last copy, actually signed by Lincoln, was given to the publisher of one of those anthologies.

The newspaper records were undoubtedly transcripts – perhaps from recalled memory. The era long preceded the press release or the circulation of “embargoed” speeches before the event.

The speech itself began with:

Four score and seven years ago…

Referencing the Declaration of Independence it then went on to define the ongoing Civil War, not as a war between Northern States and Southern States but as a battle for new freedoms–a battle for the primacy of the United States not the individual States.

The speech ended with…

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.

An awesome achievement with only two minutes of speech, no PowerPoint and no bullet lists.


About the Author

The Principal Trainer at training business Time to Market. Based in Oxford, I run presentation and public speaking training courses, coaching sessions and seminars throughout the UK. Andrew Ivey on Google+