The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


Talk of the Nation

November 19th, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It’s one of the most iconic speeches in American history, but in 1863, it got decidedly mixed reviews – one newspaper even called it “silly, flat and dishwatery.” So how did it become one of the most famous speeches in the United States? This episode of BackStory explores the evolution of an icon, and asks, more generally, what kinds of speeches – and speakers – endure in American history.

From the fiery sermons of traveling preachers in the 18th century to the teleprompted prime-time addresses of presidents today, we’ll look at how audiences’ expectations of orators have shifted, and ask why some speeches loom so much larger — or smaller — in our memory than they did in their own times.

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