Essay on Ethos in the Gettysburg Address

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Since winning their independence and ratifying their Constitution, the United States began expanding across North America through purchase, conquest, forced migration, and genocide, bringing in new territories to the Union. Since its colonial times, America saw a huge trade in slaves from Africa as these people were bought and sold as property. After independence, states in the North looked against slavery, believing it to be contradictory to the ideas of the republic.

The millions of soldiers who served in the Civil War each represent a unique story waiting to be told. Although no two men had the same journey into the army, experience in battle, or emotional response to their involvement, similar threads weave their way through a significant number of these narratives. However, while both armies were drastically different, soldiers within the armies had similar ways of relieving boredom. Both Union and Confederate armies employed professional bands composed mainly of brass and percussion instruments such as the “drums and bugle.” The Civil War soldier had many words to describe his participation in that war, and he used all of them at one time or another. Since “letters from home were critical to boosting soldier morale,” soldiers quickly had to learn the delicate art of recreating the comforts of physical presence using only the written word. Because of the increase in writing, literacy in the Union and Confederate armies drastically improved. Pictorial snapshots had appeal too, “quickly [becoming] an easy way to preserve a moment during tumultuous times. Alcohol was a staple in a soldier's daily life, “instill[ing] a sense of well-being and normalcy.” It also played a role in behavior and courage, giving soldiers a boost of confidence before diving headfirst into battle.

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Being the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln inherited a level of situated ethos. In his introduction to the Gettysburg Address, he utilizes borrowed ethos when referencing the founding fathers and how they founded this nation in liberty. This invented ethos uses the founding fathers to develop Lincoln’s purpose for the remainder of the speech and allows him to gain his listener’s attention by referencing history to bring relevance to the speech all while bringing credibility to himself. Lincoln also uses invented ethos when referencing to those who gave their lives in the battles. In the third paragraph, he states “the brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it. . . to add or subtract,” referencing the soldiers and providing evidence that supports Lincoln’s point that the citizens should continue to support the soldiers cause and not give up. Lincoln’s first utilization of pathos to appeal to his audience appears in the second paragraph where he announces “We are met on a great battlefield of that war. . .we have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place. . . the nation might live,” emphasizing the remorse and empathetical aspect for the lost loved ones. By effectively using contrast, he states “those who here gave their lives that this nation might live,” making the ultimate contrast: life vs death. Contrast produces a compelling effect and emphasizes the difference between life and death. The last two sentences of the address urge a call to action, a solution to resolve the “unfinished work”. Lincoln concludes with an impactful triple extension that has become famous throughout the world: “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The book is an account of Lincoln’s foresight and genius for gathering a most improbable assemblage of adversaries to serve in his cabinet — not just rivals of one another, but of President Lincoln, too. Within the interview, we get a glimpse of Lincoln’s emotional tolerance and his personality. Goodwin speaks of his three cabinet members and how Lincoln “somehow managed these people, who as I say, oftentimes hated one another,” by “understand[ing] that human relationships are at the core of political success.” Goodwin described the qualities that made it possible for Lincoln to “bring disgruntled opponents together to create the most unusual cabinet in history.” His qualities as a listener allowed Lincoln to become close with his cabinet members and make the most efficient decision as shown when he “took into consideration, agreed with Seward [to wait for a victory], and waited until the battle of Antietam was fought and successfully resolved before he finally said he was going to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.” When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he knew that he was doing something deeply radical and that he was vulnerable to those who were prepared to wage war to defend the Union but would balk at the idea of a war to emancipate slaves.

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Essay on Ethos in the Gettysburg Address. (2024, February 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
“Essay on Ethos in the Gettysburg Address.” Edubirdie, 09 Feb. 2024,
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