Hear Johnny Cash Deliver Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Four score and sev­en years ago…

It goes on from there.

If you’re a bit rusty on Abra­ham Lincoln’s Get­tys­burg Address, lis­ten to singer John­ny Cash recite the famous­ly brief speech in its entire­ty, above, from his Amer­i­ca: A 200-Year Salute in Sto­ry and Song album. (The acoustic gui­tar accom­pa­ni­ment is by long time Cash col­lab­o­ra­tor, Nor­man Blake.)

A lit­tle back­ground for those in need of a refresh­er: Lin­coln deliv­ered the speech in Novem­ber 1863, at the ded­i­ca­tion of the Nation­al Ceme­tery in Get­tys­burg, Penn­syl­va­nia.

Four months ear­li­er, rough­ly 10,000 Con­fed­er­ate and Union sol­diers perished—and anoth­er 30,000 were wounded—during three days of fight­ing in the area. The Bat­tle of Get­tys­burg end­ed in a major vic­to­ry for the North, though Lin­coln was frus­trat­ed that Gen­er­al George Meade failed to pur­sue Robert E. Lee’s retreat­ing forces. (Whether or not such a move could have short­ened the war is a mat­ter of some debate.)

Lin­coln wel­comed the invi­ta­tion to the cemetery’s ded­i­ca­tion as a chance to frame the sig­nif­i­cance of the war in terms of the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence. Slave own­ers fre­quent­ly cit­ed the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of their actions, for unlike the Dec­la­ra­tion, the Con­sti­tu­tion did not hold that all men were cre­at­ed equal.

The day’s oth­er speak­er, for­mer Har­vard Pres­i­dent and Sec­re­tary of State Edward Everett, praised  the “elo­quent sim­plic­i­ty & appro­pri­ate­ness” of the pres­i­den­t’s two minute speech, per­haps blush­ing a bit, giv­en that he him­self had held the podi­um for two hours.

A year and a half lat­er, when Lin­coln was assas­si­nat­ed, Sen­a­tor Charles Sum­n­er of Mass­a­chu­setts summed it up:

That speech, uttered at the field of Gettysburg…and now sanc­ti­fied by the mar­tyr­dom of its author, is a mon­u­men­tal act. In the mod­esty of his nature he said “the world will lit­tle note, nor long remem­ber what we say here; but it can nev­er for­get what they did here.” He was mis­tak­en. The world at once not­ed what he said, and will nev­er cease to remem­ber it.

(How sor­ry those gen­tle­man would be to learn just how lit­tle most Amer­i­cans today know of the  the Bat­tle of Get­tys­burg. Fear not, though. A restored ver­sion of Ken Burns’ Civ­il War doc­u­men­tary is com­ing to PBS this fall.)

Please note that Lincoln’s brief remarks were care­ful­ly pre­pared, and not scrib­bled on the back of an enve­lope dur­ing the train ride that took him to Get­tys­burg. As a nation, we love folksy ori­gin sto­ries, and depend­ing on the size of one’s pen­man­ship, it is indeed pos­si­ble to fit 272 words on an enve­lope, but it’s a myth… no mat­ter what John­ny Cash may say in his intro­duc­tion.

PS — If you would like to com­mit the Get­tys­burg Address to mem­o­ry, try singing it to the tune of “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. No doubt Pro­fes­sor Lyn­da Bar­ry would approve.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Poet­ry of Abra­ham Lin­coln

Res­ur­rect­ing the Sounds of Abra­ham Lin­coln in Steven Spielberg’s New Biopic

Ani­mat­ed Video: John­ny Cash Explains Why Music Became a Reli­gious Call­ing

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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