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Gettysburg Address Versus Declaration Of Independence

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Lincoln’s Address Versus Jefferson’s Declaration

Two of the most important, and, perhaps the two most important documents in American history are the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. The Declaration of Independence, the document of secession written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, called for the complete independence of the states from the British Empire. The Gettysburg Address was a document on the theory of union that stressed the need for one united country and expressed the importance of doing whatever necessary to complete the task of keeping the states united as one. It was written and delivered by Abraham Lincoln in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at a cemetery dedication for soldiers who had died in the famous Civil War battle there.

These two documents of Jefferson and Lincoln’s are different in more ways than they are similar. More specifically, the clear difference between the two in organization and contradiction of arguments that each expresses are what show that the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence were two documents written on completely different ends of the spectrum. Because of this, the two are just as significant to each other as they are individually to the construction and shaping of America and its rich history. The fact that these two documents are so different from one another is what makes them such great pieces of history. Jefferson’s idea of decentralization and freedom versus Lincoln’s theory of one centralized, unified, and indivisible nation and government represents the change and difference of opinion between two people of different eras in American history. This change and difference of opinion was the result of a growing country and is what was needed in order to build it and develop it into the country that it is today.

When analyzing the differences between Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence, the first factor that must be taken into account is the difference in organization between the two. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence as a syllogism, with a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion drawn from his premises. The major premise of Jefferson’s argument is his theory of “natural law,” where he argues, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He goes on to state that it is the government’s job to protect these rights of the people and if it fails to do so, “it is [the people’s] duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.” Having this major, broader premise in his argument is what leads him into his minor premise, which is his attack on King George III. Jefferson accuses the King of preventing the people from exercising the rights that Jefferson previously mentions. He then provides specific examples of how George III and his government did so. With this argument, composed of his major and minor premises, Jefferson goes into his conclusion, the call for secession of the colonies from the British Empire. The organization of the Declaration of Independence helps Jefferson’s argument a great deal. The syllogism provides areas for multiple arguments that can be backed by strong evidence. With it, Jefferson is able to argue his points in a clear and easy way with little room for a rebuttal from an opposing argument.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, on the other hand, is organized quite differently from Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. This document is much shorter and to the point. Lincoln’s theories are presented in a past, present, and future argument. He opens his speech with the past, mentioning the founding fathers of the United States (ironically speaking of Jefferson) and the values that they possessed when creating a new nation. Lincoln then quickly moves to the present. He states, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and do dedicated, can long endure.” Here, he is identifying the country’s current state, in the midst of a civil war, as a problem or, even more so, as a challenge that has been brought upon the United States that it must overcome. Lincoln then goes on to the main, and most crucial part of the Gettysburg Address, the future. Here is where he sums up what needs to be done in the years to come in order to make sure that the country can in fact overcome the challenge that it has brought upon itself. Though Lincoln’s argument is shorter and not as in depth or broken down as Jefferson’s, his past, present, and future strategy is arguably just as effective. The Gettysburg Address is less of an argumentative document and much more of a motivational one that was designed to persuade the American people to strive for a centralized, united country. Lincoln’s speech did just that.

Even more significant than the lack of organizational similarities between the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, are the differences between the theories and ideas that Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln are trying to convey in their respective documents. The two are opposites. They contradict each other. While Jefferson preaches secession, Lincoln demands union.



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