Edward Everett
Gettysburg Oration
(November 19, 1863)

Excerpt from the Original Electronic Text at Google Books.

Edward Everett was the featured speaker at the dedication of the National Cemetary at Gettysburg, and the following are the opening paragraphs of his speech (which continued for another 12,000 words). President Lincoln gave only brief "dedicatory remarks." Although Everett was renowned as a speaker and although his address was the kind that American audiences of the time appreciated, he recognized in Lincoln's speech the qualities of a truly "great work": "I should be glad," he wrote Lincoln, "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" (Everett to Lincoln, 20 Nov. 1863).

{1}Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature. But the duty to which you have called me must be perfomed; - - grant me, I pray you, your indulgence and your sympathy.

{2}It was appointed by law in Athens, that the obsequies of the citizens who fell in battle should he performed at the public expense, and in the most honorable manner. Their bones were carefully gathered up from the funeral pyre, where their bodies were consumed, and brought home to the city. There, for three days before the interment, they lay in state, beneath tents of honor, to receive the votive offerings of friends and relatives, - - flowers, weapons, precious omaments, painted vases, (wonders of art, which after two thousand years adorn the museums of modern Europe,) - - the last tributes of surviving affection. Ten coffins of funereal cypress received the honorable deposit, one for each of the tribes of the city, and an eleventh in memory of the unrecognized, but not therefore unhonored, dead, and of those whose remains could not be recovered. On the fourth day the mournful procession was formed: mothers, wives, sisters, daughters led the way, and to them it was permitted by the simplicity of ancient manners to utter aloud their lamentations for the beloved and the lost; the male relatives and friends of the deceased followed; citizens and strangers closed the train. Thus marshalled, they moved to the place of interment in that famous Ceramicus, the most beautiful suburb of Athens, which had been adorned by Cimon, the son of Miltiades, with walks and fountains and columns, - - whose groves were filled with altars, shrines, and temples - - whose gardens were kept forever green by the streams from the neighboring hills, and shaded with the trees sacred to Minerva and coeval with the foundation of the city, - - whose circuit enclosed

the olive Grove of Academe, plato's retirement, where the Attic bird Trilled his thick-warbled note the summer long;
whose pathways gleamed with the monuments of the illustrious dead, the work of the most consummate masters that ever gave life to marble. There, beneath the over-arching plane-trees, upon a lofty stage erected for the purpose, it was ordained that a funeral oration should be pronounced by some citizen of Athens, in the presence of the assembled multitude.

{3}Such were the tokens of respect required to be paid at Athens to the memoy of those who had fallen in the cause of their country. For those alone who fell at Marathon a special honor was reserved. As the battle fought upon that immnortal field was distinguished from all others in Grecian history for its influence over the fortunes of Hellas, - - as it depended upon the event of tht day whether Greece should live, a glory and a light to all coming time, or should expire like the meteor of a moment; so the honors awarded to its martyr-heroes were such as were bestowed by Athens on no other occasion. They alone of all her sons were entombed upon the spot which they had forever rendered famous. Their names were inscribed upon ten pillars, erected upon the monumental tumulus which covered their ashes, (where after six hundred years, they were read by the traveler Pausanias,) and although the columns beneath the hand of time and barbaric violence, have long since disappeared, the venerable mound still marks the spot where they fought and fell -

That battlefield where Persia's victim horde First bowed beneath the brunt of Hellas' sword.

{4}And shall I, fellow citizens, who, after an interval of twenty-three centuries, a youthful pilgrim from the world unknown to ancient Greece, have wandered over that illustrious plain, ready to put off the shoes from off my feet, as one that stands on holy ground who have gazed with respectful emotion on the mound which still protects the dust of those who rolled back the tide of Persian invasion, and rescued the land of popular liberty, of letters, and of arts, from.the ruthless foe, stand unmoved over the graves of our dear brethren, who so lately, on three of the all-important days which decide a nation's history, - - days on whose issue it depended whether this august republican Union, founded by some of the wisest statesmen that ever lived, cemented with the blood of some of the purest patriots that ever died, should perish or endure rolled back the tide of an invasion, not less unprovoked, not less ruthless, than that which came to plant the dark banner of Asiatic despotism and slavery on the free soil of Greece? Heaven forbid! And could I prove so insensible to every prompting of patriotic duty and affection, not only would you, fellow citizens, gathered, many of you from distant States, who have come to take part in these pious offices of gratitude - - you, respected fathers, brethren, matrons, sisters, who surround me, - - cry out for shame, but the forms of brave and patriotic men who fill these honored graves would heave with indignation beneath the sod.

{5}We have assembled, friends, fellow-citizens, at the invitation of the Executive of the great central State of Pennsylvania, seconded by the Governors
of seventeen other loyal States of the Union, to pay the last tribute of respect to the brave men, who. in the hard-fought battles of the first, second, and
third days of July last, laid down their lives for the country on these hill - sides and the plains before us, and whose remains have been gathered
into the cemetery which we consecrate this day. As my eye ranges over the fields whose sods were so lately moistened by the blood of gallant and
loyal men, I feel, as never before, how truly it was said of old that it is sweet and becoming to die for one's country. I feel, as never before, how justly,
from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice
their lives, that their fellow-men may live in safety and in honor. And if this tribute were, ever due, when, to whom, could it be more justly paid than
to those whose last resting-place we this day commend to the blessing of Heaven and of men?

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