Directly behind the statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the memorial chamber an inscription reads:
IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER
The Speeches In addition to the inscription behind the Lincoln statue, two of Lincolns most famous speeches are inscribed on the north and south walls of the Lincoln Memorial.
South Chamber: The Gettysburg Address
Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 during the dedication ceremony for the Soldiers' National Cemetery. This address was selected for its familiarity to many, but also because it displayed the president's strength and determination to see a successful conclusion to the American Civil War. That successful conclusion meant not just reuniting the nation, but finishing what our founders had started. This nation must be one in which all were “…created equal" was the rule of law and of practice.
Ranger Reflections: The Gettysburg Address
Listen to a brief reflection on the famous speech by Park Ranger Michael Kelly.
This is Michael Kelly, a Park Ranger at National Mall and Memorial Parks interpreting the Gettysburg Address.
On July 4, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln celebrated the nation’s birthday with double Union victories, one at Vicksburg, Mississippi and the other at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The nation’s hopes for a speedy end to the war had to be tempered and the president knew it and he wanted the country to know it. The question remained, however, how could he do it.
Gettysburg had been the costliest civil war battle to date with more than 53,000 casualties including 10,000 Union and Confederate soldiers killed and mortally wounded. Within weeks of the battle, torrential rainstorms and foraging animals had opened the thousands of poorly dug, shallow and temporary battlefield graves.
Mortified, several Union states representatives banded together to create a soldier’s cemetery into which the Union dead could be reinterred with proper ceremony and respect.
Considering that the war still raged, little thought was given to the Confederate dead in their temporary graves. That issue would have to await the end of the war. Following site selection of the Union soldier’s new cemetery, state commissioners determined that a fitting ceremony must inaugurate the reburial process.
Northern state governors as well as prominent civilian and military leaders would attend the ceremony whose capstone would be an address delivered by the Honorable Edward Everett, a prominent American statesman, politician, educator, and orator. A near last-minute invitation also was extended to President Lincoln who, as Commander and Chief, may wish to offer what were described as a few appropriate remarks. President Lincoln accepted his invitation as his opportunity to pay tribute to the fallen while reminding Americans that war was far from being over.
Lincoln thought hard about what he would say and how he would say it in as few words as possible, especially when he learned that Everett’s address alone would dominant more than two hours of the ceremony.
Inside the White House Lincoln crafted the simple, powerful words into a speech that arguably became the most famous speech in history.
The Gettysburg Address
The address delivered by President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pa. on November 19, 1863. This recording was narrated by Lincoln actor Jim Getty.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers bought forth on 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 cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot 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, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.
The address delivered by President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863. The address was narrated by Jim Getty.
North Chamber: Second Inaugural Address
Lincoln's March 4, 1865 Second Inaugural Address was selected for the north chamber of the memorial. This speech, delivered just one month before the conclusion of the Civil War, creates the policy for reuniting the divided states. The reelected president firmly believed that the northern states should welcome their southern sisters and brothers back into the Union with open arms. But the feeling among many northerners at the end of the Civil War was anger toward the South for having left the Union. Lincoln's willingness to show compassion to the southern people, "…with malice towards none; charity for all," helped quell the hostility among northerners.
Ranger Reflections: The Second Inaugural Address
Listen to a brief reflection on Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and be reminded of how Lincoln concludes the address by asking the people of the Union to put aside their bitterness and to be compassionate in order that the nation might heal and have lasting peace.
Hi. I’m Catherine Williams, Park Ranger on National Mall and Memorial Parks.
At the time President Lincoln gave his Second Inaugural Address, the Civil War was still in progress, but there was hope that the war would soon come to an end. Lincoln did not feel that it was necessary to talk about the war because he had spoken so often about it before and felt that there was nothing left to say.
Instead he reminded the people as to why they were fighting this terrible war. However in reflecting on the past four years, Lincoln’s passions surfaced as he lays the primary blame of the Civil War on the southern states because of their practice of slavery and their desire to destroy the Union in order to keep it. Even so, he refers to a passage from the bible, “judge not, that we be not judged.”
To remind the people of the Union that some of the blame most also fall on them. Lincoln felt that the war might possibly be God’s punishment on the nation; on the South for keeping slavery for too long while it was God’s will to end it and on the North for tolerating the institution and in some cases promoting it. Therefore, both were responsible for bringing such destruction to human life and property.
He concludes the address by asking the people of the Union to put aside their bitterness and to be compassionate in order that the nation might heal and have lasting peace.
It is important to note that within a few weeks, Lincoln set the example of compassion by encouraging Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander of the Union forces, to offer generous terms of surrender to Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the Army of Northern Virginia in order to bring the war to an end and start the process of unification and peace for the nation as a whole.
41 days after giving this speech, President Abraham Lincoln was killed by an embittered actor who blamed him for the South’s defeat.
The Second Inaugural
On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln took his second oath of office as president of the United States. The address he gave on the occasion is engraved on the north wall of the Lincoln Memorial. The version is recorded by Lincoln actor Jim Getty.
On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln took his second oath of office as President of the United States of America. His speech can be found on the north wall of the Lincoln Memorial. The speech is narrated by Jim Getty.
Fellow countrymen, at this second appearing to take the oath of office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest, which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energy of the nation, little that is new could be presented.
The progress of our arms upon which all else chiefly depends is as well known to the public as to myself and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction with regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it. All sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war, seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war, while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.
Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding.
Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. Woe unto the world because of offenses for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both north and south, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came. Shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.