Stephen Colbert & Louis CK Recite The Gettysburg Address, With Some Help from Jerry Seinfeld

On a Thurs­day after­noon in Novem­ber of 1863, Edward Everett took to the stage in Get­tys­burg, Penn­syl­va­nia, to deliv­er the main address at the Con­se­cra­tion Cer­e­mo­ny of the Nation­al Ceme­tery. Everett was a politi­cian who had served as both a clas­sics pro­fes­sor and pres­i­dent of Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, and was also a renowned ora­tor. His address to the 15,000-strong crowd began on the fol­low­ing grandil­o­quent note, which Everett pro­ceed­ed to hold for two hours:

“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 per­formed; grant me, I pray you, your indul­gence and your sym­pa­thy.”

Despite this wave of lofty sen­ti­ment, Everett’s speech was over­shad­owed by the 278-word for­mu­la­tion that would for­ev­er com­mem­o­rate that day, deliv­ered by Abra­ham Lin­coln.

Unlike Everett’s remarks, Lincoln’s Get­tys­burg address (whose five ver­sions can be found here) has shown lit­tle wear since its deliv­ery on Novem­ber 19, exact­ly 150 years ago. While there is some evi­dence to sug­gest that the audi­ence was ini­tial­ly non­plussed by the speech’s sim­ple lan­guage and strik­ing brevi­ty, today Lincoln’s words are con­sid­ered to be among the most fine­ly wrought rhetoric in the West­ern canon: they remain acces­si­ble to all, yet seam­less­ly entwine the thread of equal­i­ty that ran so clear­ly through the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence with the idea of the war being essen­tial to the preser­va­tion of the Union. One can­not help but sus­pect that hon­est Abe failed to grasp the impact that his pithy ora­tion would have; Everett’s sub­se­quent com­ments to the Pres­i­dent, how­ev­er, pre­fig­ured the speech’s his­tor­i­cal arc:

“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.”

In hon­or of the 150th anniver­sary of Lincoln’s deliv­ery of the Get­tys­burg address, doc­u­men­tar­i­an Ken Burns has embarked on a project called Learn The Address in an attempt to get Amer­i­cans to record their recita­tions of the speech. In the mashup below, Burns pro­vides footage of politi­cians, enter­tain­ers, and jour­nal­ists giv­ing their ren­di­tions. We’ve also includ­ed some of our favorites, includ­ing Stephen Colbert’s high­ly com­i­cal mono­logue (top) and Jer­ry Sein­feld explain­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of the address to Louis CK, right above.

For more ver­sions of Lin­col­n’s Get­tys­burg address, includ­ing those by Pres­i­dent Oba­ma, Conan O’Brien, and Bill O’Reil­ly, head to Ken Burn’s Learn The Address site.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

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  • cfk41 says:

    ” While there is some evi­dence to sug­gest that the audi­ence was ini­tial­ly non­plussed by the speechu2019s sim­ple lan­guage and strik­ing brevity“nnnThey were bewil­dered to the point of speech­less­ness? Real­ly? Damn.

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