Arguably the most famous speech in American History, the Gettysburg Address, given by Abraham Lincoln, highlighted the continuing mission of equality and the fight for a united nation. By using the Declaration of Independence and ideas from John Locke’s Second Treatises of Government, Lincoln is able to evoke liberal themes that focused on America’s rebirth and the idea of equality.
“Four score and seven years ago” served as a reference to the events that took place only 87 years ago. The Declaration of Independence. Lincoln intricately chooses to connect his address to a document that majority of the nation had trusted and believed in. He draws an important theme of equality by directly quoting “all men are created equal,” and anchoring his address in these widely held beliefs. Lincoln concludes his address with another statement that references the Declaration “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.” In this statement, he is referring to the ideas in the Declaration that state the government exists by the consent of the people, and that the government is designed to protect the rights of the people.
Another document that may have influenced Lincoln’s views was John Locke’s Second Treaties of Government. Lincoln began by reminding the people that the founding principle of this nation is equality and freedom. He drew on ideas that democracy doesn’t work, and that no one should be the master of another person. These ideals may have been inspired by John Locke.
John Locke expressed the idea of freedom as the ability to live your life without interreference. In his first point, Locke explains a “state of nature” (Locke 41) which is a hypothetical condition that assumed humans lived in perfect freedom and equality. He highlighted on the idea that everyone had a right to live their lives, enjoy their liberty, and make the most of their property. Locke also addresses the idea that the government was invented to serve the human people, and protect the rights of the people. Similarly, Lincoln spoke of these same notions, all men are created equal and the intended goal of the government is for the benefit of the people.
In the address, Lincoln discusses the past, present, and future of the country, as he evokes liberal views in an attempt to unite the nation and highlight the importance of equality. Liberals believe that the government is designed to achieve equal opportunity and equality for everyone. Lincoln addresses these ideas as he develops trust in the people by alluding to the idea that a new nation will be born through the relationship of the government and the people. As Lincoln transformed the idea and focus of the nation, he drew on the belief that all individuals are of equal value, and should be treated fairly by society. Throughout his address he makes a rallying cry for the people to remain committed to these ideals.
While the Declaration of Independence and John Locke’s Treatise served as inspiration for Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address, the Gettysburg Address was able to preserve and revive the ideas that came from those pivotal documents. Through Lincoln’s liberal views, he is able to convince the people to renew the mission of equality and fight for a united nation.
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