On this 156th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address — arguably the most well-known and well-regarded speech in our nation’s history — let’s take a moment to remember native Bostonian Edward Everett. Poor, poor Edward Everett.
Everett, as you may (or, more likely, may not) recall, was the very accomplished keynote speaker in Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863: The former congressman, senator, governor of Massachusetts, U.S. secretary of state, and Harvard president delivered a two-hour speech about the significance of the site’s great battle.
Given Everett’s status as probably the finest orator of his time, there’s no doubt it was a memorable speech. Unfortunately, he had the misfortune to be followed by President Lincoln, who delivered 10 sentences that would go down in history — and obliterate any memory of Edwards’s own “Gettysburg Address” on that occasion.
Edwards died two years later, but he wasn’t exactly a broken man: He had his life’s great accomplishments under his belt, and lives on today as the namesake of Edward Everett Square in Dorchester — and, of course, of Everett, Massachusetts, currently best known as the site of a very expensive casino. And he himself acknowledged the power of Lincoln’s words, famously writing to the president, “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.”
So in his honor, consider taking the (not inconsequential amount of) time today to read Edward Everett’s Gettysburg address here. But if you only have two minutes, here’s the one everybody remembers:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on 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 battle-field 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, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.