Today, like in Gladiator, we look back to hallowed antiquity as it is the 145th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Here is a .pdf of NYT's story from this day, 145 years ago, when half of our divided country came together to dedicate a cemetery on the ground that had been a great battlefield less than five months before.
It's an interesting speech. Just 272 words and 10 sentences long, lasting barely two minutes, its words still ring true to this day. The most interesting line, and the line where Lincoln got it the most wrong was this, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."
He was half right, we haven't forgotten what was done, but we also haven't forgotten what was said...except, of course, Edward Everett's two-hour speech preceding Lincoln's brief remarks. Funny how these things happen.
I bet, if a random group of us were to write down the 10 most important addresses in the English language, not only would Lincoln's words be there, but we'd probably agree on five of the remaining nine.
Here are 10 of my favs (minus Lincoln's) from newest to oldest:
- Ronald Reagan's 1987 remarks at the Brandenburg Gate, "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev -- Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's in 1963, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
- John F. Kennedy's 1963 address in Berlin, "Two thousand years ago -- Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was 'civis Romanus sum.' Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' " (For those of you who skipped Latin, or didn't watch The West Wing, "civis Romanus sum" means "I am a Roman citizen.")
- John F. Kennedy's 1962, "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon... (interrupted by applause) we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."
- John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address, "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
- General of the Army Douglas MacArthur's 1951 farewell address to Congress, "The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that "old soldiers never die; they just fade away."
- Franklin Roosevelt's 1941 speech to the nation after Pearl Harbor was attacked, "Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."
- Winston Churchill's 1940 address during the Battle of Britain, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day…"
- Lou Gehrig's 1939 goodbye to baseball, "Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
- Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural address in 1933, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
This list, as I look over it now, contains no women. That, obviously, is a major gap in my admittedly limited, misogynistic, Euro-centric education. I took a women's studies course only because it was a requirement. So sue me if I can't remember, off the top of my head, a famous speech by a women.
It's also a pretty white list but, perhaps, one day in the future, we'll be adding a speech or two by the incoming president to the list.
The floor is now open for nominations for additions and deletions. You must choose, but choose wisely.