Abraham Lincoln was not the primary speaker at Gettysburg that day: American ambassador Edward Everett was. However, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is now remembered so intensely that many people forget there were any other speakers. This speech is part of the overall myth of Abraham Lincoln, and the stories circulating about this myth blend with the stories about Abraham Lincoln the man, and Abraham Lincoln the president. These stories circulate in part because Lincoln was indeed an impressive figure. He was president during a time of ultimate national crisis (the Civil War) and he was assassinated, and the nation's loss transformed the president into a mythic figure. Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States. Raised on the frontier and largely self-educated, Lincoln grew up farming and doing related manual labor. He became a lawyer and served several terms in the Illinois House of Representatives. In 1860, he ran for president as the candidate of the newly formed Republican Party and was elected in a highly contested election. His election was one of the causes of the Civil War, which filled his entire first term. Lincoln won a second term much more handily. He was assassinated in 1865, early in his second term.
Though many people have forgotten anyone else besides Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, Everett was the top draw. He was one of the most famous speakers in 19th-century America and had been famous for decades for his speeches. He gave many long speeches—some over two hours long—on major historical topics, like the Battle of Bunker Hill from the American Revolution. He was known for giving extended speeches from memory and for accompanying them with broad dramatic gestures. Everett was in many ways Lincoln's opposite. Where Lincoln was self-educated, Everett attended Harvard. Where Lincoln came from the frontier, Everett was from Massachusetts, and he spent four years traveling and studying in Europe. The speech Everett gave that day was what the audience expected. It was rich with classical learning, practiced, and ceremonial. It was what Everett was known for and what the planner desired for such a ceremony. It also provided considerable contrast to Lincoln's speech. Everett expressed admiration for the brevity and elegance of Lincoln's speech.