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Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: Echoes of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer

Overview

While it has long been determined that Abraham Lincoln’s writings were influenced by the King James Bible, until now no full-length study has shown the precise ways in which the Gettysburg Address uses its specific language. Refuting the view that the address was crafted with traditional classical references, this revealing investigation provides a new way to think about the speech and the man who wrote it. A. E. Elmore offers chapter and verse evidence from the Bible as well as specific examples from the ...

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Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: Echoes of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer

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Overview

While it has long been determined that Abraham Lincoln’s writings were influenced by the King James Bible, until now no full-length study has shown the precise ways in which the Gettysburg Address uses its specific language. Refuting the view that the address was crafted with traditional classical references, this revealing investigation provides a new way to think about the speech and the man who wrote it. A. E. Elmore offers chapter and verse evidence from the Bible as well as specific examples from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer to illustrate how Lincoln borrowed from these sources to imbue his speech with meanings that would resonate with his listeners. He cites every significant word and phrase—conceived, brought forth, struggled, remaining, consecrate, dedicate, hallow, devotion, new birth, to name a few—borrowed by Lincoln from these two religious texts for use in his dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Elmore demonstrates how Lincoln transformed the lovely old language of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer into something as close to classical perfection as any public speech has ever achieved. He further reveals how Lincoln used the language of his political and military enemies to promote his antislavery agenda and to advance the gospel of equality originally set forth in the Declaration of Independence.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address focuses on a number of overlooked themes and ideas, such as the importance of literary allusion and the general public’s knowledge of the Bible in the age of Lincoln. It provides fresh answers to old questions and poses a new one: Was Lincoln a common thief who made use of words from previously published materials as well as his contemporaries, or was he a genius whose literary and political skills were unmatched?  No one who reads this highly engaging study will ever think about Lincoln or the Gettysburg Address the same way again.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This book offers an extraordinarily thorough examination of the words, concepts, and literary associations of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Its arguments about the connections of this famous speech to the King James Bible are convincing; its examination of connections to Shakespeare, the Book of Common Prayer, and landmark statements of American political history are provocative in the best way.”

—Mark A. Noll, author of The Civil War as a Theological Crisis

“A. E. Elmore demonstrates Lincoln’s skill as a wordsmith and shows in intricate and persuasive detail how his language in the Gettysburg Address closely reflected both the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Lincoln borrowed from these texts, refracted the words through his own experience and sense of rhythm, and produced the most elegant public address in American history.  Elmore’s book should be essential reading for anyone interested in the language, ideas, and impact of Lincoln’s statement.”

—John B. Boles, author of The South Through Time: A History of an American Region

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society - James A. Percoco

120

Proving to be a prodigious researcher when tackling weighty is­sues, Elmore convincingly argues that Lincoln was a master at mak­ing biblical and literary allusions in his greatest speech as well as in pulling from the likes of Euclidian geometry, Shakespeare, and John C. Calhoun, among other slavery apologists. While on the surface this seems like nothing new, it proves to be quite revelatory. Wieck attributed Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to his understanding of New England minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker and Wills presents the Gettysburg Address as an American version of Pericles's Funeral Oration, but Elmore digs deep into the religious context of the time and fleshes out more completely here than other writers Lincoln's wealth of understanding of the Bible. To read this book is to cast aside all images of Lincoln as an infidel, an accusation he lived with, but rather to see a man so attuned to phrase, meter, and pace of ele­ments of the Bible that he is able to take scripture, apply it to the narrative of American history, and elevate his rhetoric to a place that few subsequent American presidents have been able to do.
[....] At work here as a writer, Elmore, a professor of law, builds his case for his argument much in the way Lincoln would for a client. It is hard not to escape Lincoln the lawyer at work on these pages as well as he prepares his remarks—the ultimate argument being one of the greatest speeches in history. Delving into texts, such as the English Oxford Dictionary and other etymological references from western literature, the author demonstrates his understanding of the role and development of language over time, a language that Lincoln was able to take to transcendent heights.

_JAMES A. PERCOCO teaches United States and Applied History at West Springfield High School in Springfield, Virginia. He is the author of Summers with Lincoln: Looking for the Man in the Monuments (2008) and is history educator-in-residence at American University in Washington, D.C.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809329519
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
  • Publication date: 11/20/2009
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 1,032,178
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

A professor of English and law at Athens State University in Alabama, A. E. Elmore has contributed essays to a number of books, including Fitzgerald in Modern American Fiction: Form and Function and The Vanderbilt Tradition, among others. This is his first book.

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