Tuesday marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a speech that remains as relevant today as the day it was delivered.
Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns appeared on NOW with Alex Wagner Monday to discuss the significance of the 272-word speech, which he described as “presidential poetry.”
Lincoln delivered the address on November 19, 1863, four months after the bloodiest battle of the Civil War resulted in an estimated 50,000 casualties.
And with its opening lines, it amounted to a clear “doubling down on the Declaration,” Burns said.
“When Thomas Jefferson said ‘four score and seven years before,’ he said all men are created equal but he owned other human beings and didn’t see the contradiction or the hypocrisy and didn’t free any of them in his lifetime,” Burns said. “So Lincoln’s coming four score and seven years later, after we’re in the process of killing 750,000 of our own over this question of slavery and this is the biggest battle ever fought in North America on American soil, and he’s saying we really do believe in this. He was giving new marching orders.”
Alex Wagner said reading the text still gave her the chills.
“It’s an important reminder for all of us that the project of democracy is messy and it sometimes feels defeated, especially in the current political landscape, but that struggle is inherent in the democratic project,” Wagner said. “The differences between us are things that we have always had, and yet we come together and are stronger for them.”
You can watch the interview here.
(Ken Burns’ latest documentary “The Address” will airn on PBS on April 15,2014 at 9:00PM E.T.)