Over the past few years, there has been, upon this continent, a
rebirth in public interest in Abraham Lincoln.
Doris Kearns Goodwin in 2006 had a huge success with "Team of
Rivals," her study of the political diversity of Lincoln's Cabinet
and his style of gathering advice, and now the movie "Lincoln,"
which focuses on the difficulties of passing the amendment
guaranteeing emancipation, is filling the theaters and is nominated
for numerous awards. Clearly, Lincoln is much thought about and
But as Al Elmore, a professor at Athens State University, reminds
us in his study of the Gettysburg Address, with Lincoln it has
always been so: "More books have been written about him than any
other person in history except Jesus Christ and William
In fact there have been a number of books studying Lincoln's
reading, his rhetorical style, his writings of all kinds, including
studies of the Gettysburg Address, and Elmore acknowledges and cites
But Elmore's concerns are even more specific.
He traces and explains, sentence by sentence (and there are only
10 sentences), indeed, phrase by phrase, the sources of the
Gettysburg Address, delivered on Nov. 19, 1863, which he calls "the
most famous speech ever written by anyone" and "a national
treasure." Lincoln's sources include a lecture by Theodore Parker
(for the origin of the phrase "of the people, by the people and for
the people," which Lincoln sharpened) the plays of William
Shakespeare, Euclidean geometry (for the word "proposition"), the
Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, as
well as political writings and speeches by American statesmen going
back to the Revolution.
Elmore asserts that Lincoln's reading, since he had little formal
schooling, was narrow but very deep and that he had an extraordinary
memory. What he read, he knew. But Elmore's focus is on the
references and allusions to the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer.
These two documents provide the bulk of Lincoln's allusions, and it
is not by chance.
Elmore argues that the primary or controlling metaphor of the
Gettysburg Address was also taken from the New Testament and, to a
lesser degree, the Declaration of Independence--that is, the
metaphor of birth, death and rebirth. Lincoln uses the phrase
"conceived in liberty" to connect the nation's struggles to the
birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, who will not only enjoy
eternal life Himself, but whose sacrifice makes it possible for His