In this role he interpreted the meaning of the war as divine punishment for collective sins, which offered the nation a means of atonement. By 1865, with the cost of saving the Union to be measured in terms of 600,000 Civil War dead, Lincoln had removed all evidence of his own intermediary presence, admitting that neither he nor anyone else could claim exclusive knowledge of divine intentions (Dwight G. Anderson 159).
The speech delivered that day was very short, but brief as it was, it would have an effect far beyond the hills of Gettysburg. In the century that followed, no other piece of brief prose received a fraction of the attention accorded to this:
Response to the speech at the time was mixed. At the ceremony, Lincoln finished almost before he had started and well before the photographer could adjust his equipment. Applause was tardy and polite, so much so that Lincoln told a friend he thought the speech would not "scour," believing that the people were disappointed. Press comments at the time were perfunctory, and the speech was criticized by Democratic papers and praised by Republican papers:
Clinton responds to the boos in his opening words and is thus forced to begin by stating that he has heard the dissenters and now asks that they hear him. It is clear from the body of his speech that he knew the reception he would receive and was prepared for it, addressing it as the subject of his address:
Bill Clinton's speech is not as well-designed as the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln begins his speech with the ringing "Four score and seven years ago," while Clinton begins by addressing the hecklers in the crowd and uses them as a springboard for the speech that follows. It is certain that Clinton knew he would be heckled at the Vietnam War Memorial, for the attitude of a number of war veterans had been made clear in the days preceding the occasion of the speech. News reports of the speech tended to feature the reception:
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