American Portraits

Four Score and Seven Years Ago: Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, and Identity

In this lesson, students will analyze Abraham Lincoln’s identity as a writer, speaker, and president related to the Gettysburg Address.

Founding Principles

Civic Virtue image

Civic Virtue

A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.

Equality image


Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Inalienable / Natural Rights image

Inalienable / Natural Rights

Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.

Liberty image


Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.


In the late autumn of 1863, President Lincoln faced many public and personal crises. The Civil War raged on, producing massive amounts of deaths. At the Battle of Gettysburg alone there were more than 51,000 American casualties between the North and South. Those deaths weighed heavily on Lincoln, as did the burdens of his office. In addition, his son, Tad, was ill. Despite these concerns, Lincoln agreed to deliver a speech in Gettysburg to commemorate the war dead that would be interred there….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

Why are identity and equality important values?

Virtue Defined

Identity answers the question, “Who am I?”

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will analyze Abraham Lincoln’s identity as a writer, speaker, and president related to the Gettysburg Address.


  • Students will read a narrative about Abraham Lincoln and the writing and recitation of the Gettysburg Address.
  • Students will analyze the significance of the Address as related to identity and equality.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of identity and equality to their own lives.
  • Students will help to protect freedom for themselves and others through identity and equality.


While the American Civil War began in April 1861with the first shots fired at Fort Sumterit was in September 1862, after the battle of Antietam, that President Abraham Lincoln finally believed he had the victory he needed to issue a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. That document freed slaves in states then in rebellion.

Despite the Union gaining the moral advantage after the issuance of the Proclamation, the bloody war raged on into 1863. In July of that year, Union and Confederate armies clashed at a sleepy Pennsylvania town named Gettysburg, as well as out west at the Mississippi River port of Vicksburg. Both brought victories for the Union, but at immense costs. To provide a final resting place for many of these honored dead, a new cemetery was created in Gettysburg and dedicated in November of 1863, only four months after the battle. President Abraham Lincoln accepted an invitation to speak at the event, where he offered a reflection on the battle, the greater war, and principles that continue to shape American ideals to this day.


  • Preliminary
  • Reflection
  • Casualties
  • Commemorate
  • Voraciously
  • Elocution
  • Rhythm
  • Cadence
  • Musings
  • Renown
  • Composition
  • Oration
  • Natural rights
  • Proposition
  • Veracity
  • Perished
  • Dedicate
  • Triplets
  • Consecrate
  • Rhetorical
  • Humility
  • Hallow
  • Nobly

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • How was Lincoln’s identity reflected in this episode of his life?
  • What was Lincoln’s purpose for delivering the Gettysburg Address?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • Discuss the following questions with your students.
  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Gettysburg Address:
  • Gettysburg National Military Park:
  • Lincoln, Abraham. Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings, 1859-1865 : Speeches, Letters, and Miscellaneous Writings Presidential Messages and Proclamations. Library of America, 2009.
  • Wills, Gary. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America. Simon & Schuster, 2006.
  • Borritt, Gabor. Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech that Nobody Knows. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008.
  • Wilson, Douglas L. Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words. New York: Vintage, 2006.
  • White, Jr., Ronald C. The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words. New York: Random House, 2006.

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