Writers, take heed: The Gettysburg Address . . . “provides a model and a mirror for writing and speechmaking today.”
White notes that the address, delivered on Nov. 19, 1863, following the deadly U.S. Civil War battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is revered not only for its brevity but its clarity.
He further says, “[Lincoln] understood there is no such thing as good writing; there is only good rewriting.” (emphasis added)
(No, A. Lincoln didn’t hastily scribble his speech on the back of an envelope any more than G. Washington chopped down a cherry tree or threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River.)
White points out that Lincoln “chose his words carefully. In his 272 words, 204 were sturdy, one-syllable words, the kind he so appreciated in the Bible and in Shakespeare.”
He concludes with this recommendation: “As you read the Gettysburg Address today, read it slowly, for he spoke it slowly. Take time to appreciate the power of words. Words fiercely mattered to Abraham Lincoln. They ought to matter to us.” (emphasis added)
As an editor, I recommend to writers that they follow White’s advice:
- Take time to appreciate the power of words.
- There is no such thing as good writing; there is only good rewriting.
Ronald C. White Jr., a fellow at the Huntington Library and a visiting professor of history at UCLA, is the author of A. Lincoln: A Biography.
- LA Times op-ed: The Gettysburg Address: Much noted and long remembered
- Ronald C. White Interview
- Text of the Gettysburg Address (Wikipedia)