The five greatest Gettysburg performances

UCL History:

Dr Adam Smith (Senior Lecturer in the Department of History) shares his thoughts on Gettysburg performances

Originally posted on Adam I. P. Smith: Historian:

Churchill at an American Thanksgiving Celebration, Royal Albert Hall, 1944

Churchill at an American Thanksgiving Celebration, Royal Albert Hall, 1944

The extraordinary thing about the Gettysburg Address, which was given 150 years ago on Tuesday, is that people still venerate it as they do. It is, on one level, a pretty standard piece of wartime rhetoric, polarising the issues and claiming that the stakes are universal, eternal and profound. Churchill did the same sort of thing with his 1941 speeches — pre-empting the judgement of history by arguing that this would be our finest hour, and that the stakes were sunlit uplands versus a new dark age. But of course both Lincoln in 1863 and Churchill in 1941 really were speaking at a moment in history when if certain things had happened differently, the consequences may have been utterly profound. In both cases, had those leaders not been on the winning side, and helped shape the nature of the victory…

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