The Legacy of the Gettysburg Address, 1863-1965
MetadataShow full item record
My project examines the legacy of the Gettysburg Address from 1863 to 1965. After an introduction and a chapter setting the stage, each succeeding chapter surveys the meaning of the Gettysburg Address at key moments: the initial reception of the speech in 1863; its status during the semi-centennial in 1913 and during the construction of the Lincoln Memorial; the place it held during the world wars; and the transformation of the Address in the late 1950s and early 1960s marked by the confluence of the Cold War, Civil Rights Movement, Lincoln Birth Sesquicentennial, and Civil War Centennial. My final chapter considers how interpretations of the Address changed in textbooks from 1900 to 1965, and provides the entire trajectory of the evolving meanings of the speech in one medium and in one chapter. For each time period I have analyzed what the Address meant to people living in four cities: Gettysburg, Richmond, New York, and London. My argument is twofold. First, rather than operating as a national document the Gettysburg Address has always held different meanings in the North and South. Given that the speech addressed questions central to the United States (equality and democracy), this lack of a common interpretation illustrates that there was no singular collective memory or national identity regarding core values. Second, as the nation and world shifted, so did the meaning of the Gettysburg Address. Well into the twentieth-century the essence of the speech was proclaimed to be its support of the democratic form of government as opposed to monarchies or other institutions. But in the middle twentieth-century that interpretation began to shift, with many both abroad and at home beginning to see the speech’s assertion of human equality as its focal point and most important contribution.
Peatman, Jared Elliott (2010). The Legacy of the Gettysburg Address, 1863-1965. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from