Several states felt their soldiers deserved a better resting place than the original shallow graves on Gettysburg Battlefield. Gettysburg citizen David Wills convinced Pennsylvania to purchase seventeen acres of the battlefield to have the soldiers properly buried.
A dedication ceremony was planned and famed orator and former Harvard President Edward Everett was to be the featured speaker. President Lincoln was asked to speak as an after thought and had only about two weeks to prepare his remarks.
Approximately 15,000 people were on hand to hear Everett's two hour speech and Lincoln's two minute speech was over before most in the crowd realized he had even begun.
Source: Neely, Mark E. Jr. 1982. The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
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 battlefield 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. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. 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. 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 - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler.