155 years ago, on Nov. 19th, 1863, four months after the Union Army defeated and drove back the Confederate Army at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln was one of two men to give speeches at the dedication of the battlefield's national cemetery; he spoke soon after Edward Everett spoke for two hours. Everett, a well-regarded politician, teacher, and orator, gave a 13,000-word speech very much in keeping with dedication speeches of the time, and which was received well by the crowd; when Lincoln then spoke, and finished his speech so quickly, reportedly people were silent, then slightly confused. People hadn't expected a two-minute speech. They also likely didn't know they'd just heard one of the great speeches of United States history.
But they did applaud during it. I somehow never really thought of the reaction people had to the Gettysburg Address; since every American now alive was born generations after Lincoln said it, and time travel to allow us to see that dedication is not possible, we have to rely on contemporary accounts. And today I happened to read a reprint of a newspaper piece that notes the speech's applause lines.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. [applause]
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. [applause] The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. [applause] It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. [applause] It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain [applause] — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. [long continued applause]