Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and King’s I Have a Dream are two of the most powerful and emotional speeches ever given in American history. Lincoln’s speech delivered against the backdrop of the bloodstained battlefield of fallen brothers and King’s given one hundred years later beneath the watchful eyes of the Lincoln Memorial contain some striking similarities and contrasts. The two speeches both begin with references to important dates in history.
Lincoln’s “four score and seven years ago“ made reference to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and King pays homage to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation with his “five score years ago. ” Both speeches were given during periods of civil strife and put forth an appeal for freedom and equality for all men, as promised by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Through his speech, Lincoln transported his audience from the founding of our Nation, to the onset of civil war and looking forward at an uncertain future.
On the other hand, King reflects on the past hundred years, as he called for an end to the racism, discrimination, segregation, and persecution of a still divided nation. Magnetic and mellifluous, his words demand repayment of a debt of freedom, equality and justice owed to Americans of color for the sad and haunting legacy left to them from an era of slavery. Both Lincoln and King used repetition as a powerful tool to emphasize their points. They utilized inclusive word such as we, us and our in their appeal to unify the Nation.
King repeats “we” thirty times and “our” seventeen times during his speech. In his dedication, Lincoln repeats “here”, eight times in his much briefer speech. Powerfully emphasizing the symbolism of the location further by using the rule of three when he stated; “we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate –we cannot hallow—this ground…the brave men living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. ” King also referred to the site of his speech as “this hallowed spot. He accentuated his points through the repetition of words and phrases such as; “freedom”, “justice”, “injustice”, “Now is the time”, “ we can never be satisfied” , “with this faith “, “one hundred years later” and the most memorable, “I have a dream. ” Whereas Lincoln spoke somberly and paternally as he called for devotion to the cause for which the Union fought, in contrast King’s passionate and fiery speech invoked a demand for freedom now for Americans of color.
King makes extensive use of metaphors with eloquent verses such as “till justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” and “a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. ” Nearing the close, his speech becomes more imbued with the rhythm and cadence of a sermon from his Southern Baptist preacher background, as he repeatedly called on America to “Let freedom ring. ”
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