Maggie: It is Geo Week, where we get to see if you can guess where in the world is Channel One! We are throwing it over to Tom Hanson who is going to put your geography skills to the test with a story about an important anniversary today.
Tom: I am here in Gettysburg, and it is here, right on these very grounds, that President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address 150 years ago. The speech was short but soon became one of the most iconic, most quoted speeches of all time.
So here is the geo quiz for you: Where is Gettysburg? Is it:
B. South Carolina
You have got ten seconds.
Time is up! The answer is “C.” Gettysburg is a town in Pennsylvania and the site of the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil.
The Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 was also seen as the turning point of the Civil War. Some 50,000 soldiers, North and South, were killed, wounded or missing in action. And it was the sacrifices at the Battle of Gettysburg that inspired Abraham Lincoln to give his famous Gettysburg Address here just a few months after the battle.
D. Scott Hartwig: Most Americans today believe we stand for equality, liberty, freedom for all; and we didn’t all stand for that through a part of our history. That’s what Lincoln talks about in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln is talking about who we are as a nation.
Tom: Now, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has become so famous that almost every single American can recite parts from it, like ‘four score and seven years ago’ or ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’ But the two-minute speech wasn’t necessarily a big hit at the time. In fact, a local newspaper called Lincoln’s remarks quote, ‘silly’ and said that he ‘deserved a veil of oblivion’ just days after he gave it.
According to Burns, an acclaimed historical filmmaker, Lincoln wasn’t even the main event!
Lincoln actually wasn’t necessarily the keynote speaker.
Ken Burns: No, he wasn’t the featured speaker. That task fell to the noted orator of the day, Edward Everett, who was known for these spectacular speeches often without notes. Everett’s speech went on for almost two hours and then Lincoln got up. He was invited as an afterthought.
Tom: In fact, Lincoln only talked for two minutes. Despite backlash from critics, the Gettysburg Address is widely considered a triumph in modern history and the power of the speech lives on today.
Learn the Address: Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…
Tom: From President Obama to Taylor Swift, people across the country are recording videos reciting Lincoln’s words and posting them on the web. It is all part of a project by Burns called Learn the Address. The initiative is meant to get Americans talking about the true meaning of the speech.
Student: Even if you say it for two minutes, it still means a lot.
Tom: Burns was first inspired to do the project while working on a documentary about the Greenwood School in Vermont. It is a private school for students with learning disabilities who are encouraged to memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address each year.
Student: …and dedicated to the proposition that…
Burns: I said, ‘You know, if they can do it, everybody can do it.’ And we live in a real fractured political time, so why don’t we get everybody. We have all the living presidents, we have conservatives, we have liberals, we have stars from Hollywood like Taylor Swift, we have Usher, we have all sorts of folks that donated their time to do this.
Learn the Address: It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here…
Tom: He says all 272 of Lincoln’s poetic words are just as relevant today, even if they were written 150 years ago.
Burns: It’s two minutes of pure poetry. It is not about the belligerence. It is all about reinvesting the democratic promise with new and, in this time, real meaning because this was a war to free the slaves and keep the country together. And so, we’re still struggling to live out what it means.
Tom: Even Lincoln himself couldn’t have imagined how his words would live on, but he knew the importance of the lives sacrificed for freedom.
Now, if you want to take part in Learn the Address and send in your own Gettysburg speech, head to Channelone.com.