Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Of Lincoln And His Speeches


To write that Abraham Lincoln had a way with words would be the mother of all understatements. His speeches speak to us today, especially his First and Second Inaugural Addresses and of course, the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln employed no speechwriter; he wrote his own. His writing had a simple, rhythmic style which conveyed majesty and righteousness in some of America's darkest days. Writers of his time and since have considered him to be one of the greatest wordsmiths in the English language.

The October 2008 issue of Smithsonian contains an insightful article about what made Lincoln's speeches so memorable. The article was written by Ted Sorenson, who was the main speech writer for President John F. Kennedy. He was the author of Kennedy's inaugural address, which contained the famous words "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

In the article, Sorenson makes the claim that Lincoln was also the greatest presidential speechwriter. He examines what made Lincoln's words so special, such as alliteration, repetition, rhythm, and timeless ideas. He also states that Lincoln was a much better speechwriter than orator, making comparisons to other presidents such as Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt. In Sorenson's opinion, it was the power and majesty of Lincoln's words which have made his speeches immortal. He closes his article by stating that "The presidents greatest in speechcraft are almost all the greatest in statecraft also—because speeches are not just words. They present ideas, directions and values, and the best speeches are those that get those right. As Lincoln did."

Coming from such an outstanding speechwriter in his own right, the praise from Sorenson is meaningful. Take some time to read the article. You won't be sorry you did.

4 comments:

Christy said...

Of course I am partial to Lincoln's speeches and writings because I am so fascinated by him. That aside, if you consider the fact that we still find his words to be poignant today, it really is amazing. Do the writings of other 19th century politicians strike a chord like that? Not with me...

Geoff Elliott said...

My favorite sentence of his is what he wrote in a letter after the fall of Vicksburg:

"The Father Of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea."

A brilliant piece of writing.

alincolnian said...

I am afraid nowadays someone so articulate would be disdained as an intellectual elitist. Who is this wimp talking about "the better angels of our nature"? Why didn't he just say "87 years ago" if that is what he meant? Of course the genius of Lincoln was that he could also be concrete, earthy or common when the ocassion called for it.

Rebecca said...

I love Lincoln's speeches because he had a way of putting the right words together. People just don't write speeches like that anymore.

 
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