Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration than in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln was asked to memorialize the gruesome battle. Instead, he gave the whole nation “a new birth of freedom” in the space of a mere 272 words. His entire life and previous training, and his deep political experience went into this, his revolutionary masterpiece.
By examining both the address and Lincoln in their historical moment and cultural frame, Wills breathes new life into words we thought we knew, and reveals much about a president so mythologized but often misunderstood. Wills shows how Lincoln came to change the world and to effect an intellectual revolution, how his words had to and did complete the work of the guns, and how Lincoln wove a spell that has not yet been broken.
A former professor of Greek at Yale University, Wills painstakingly deconstructs Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and discovers heavy influence from the early Greeks (Pericles) and the 19th century Transcendentalists (Edward Everett). The author also probes Lincoln’s decision to rely more on the Declaration of Independence than the U.S. Constitution, a decision Wills says represented a “revolution in thought.” He speaks effusively of the 272-word address: “All modern political prose descends from [it]. The Address does what all great art accomplishes. [I]t tease[s] us out of thought.” Wills’ book won the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.