No matter one’s preferred political affiliation, few would deny Barack Obama’s keen ability to deliver a quality speech and capture an audience. He gave his victory ‘Yes We Can’ speech in Chicago after news broke that he had won the presidential election. In presentation style and word choice, many similarities can be found to this speech and some of the most well-known speeches in American history. I drew similarities to two in particular: President Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’ and Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.
But I was distracted when Obama gave a vague reference to something that happened 221 years ago. This sent me hunting the Internet for a refresher course in American history.
“And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it’s been done in America for 221 years — block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.” (Full transcript)
It seems to me the speech writer intended to copy the style of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” (Full transcript)
Lincoln gave that speech on November 19, 1863. A score is equal to twenty. So four score and seven years ago equals eighty-seven (87) years. 1863 minus 87 equals 1776. 1776. That’s obviously a year I DID recognize. I predicted this result by reading the speech’s transcript: “brought forth… a new nation.”
But what about Obama’s reference? What happened 221 years ago? The birth of our nation? Unlike Lincoln, Obama did not remind his audience what the year was referring to. I admit, off the top of my head I had absolutely no idea what happened 221 years ago, but I assumed the math would result in the number 1776. He made the speech in 2008, so 2008 minus 221 equals 1787. 1787?
I felt like a bad American. Surely I should remember what happened in American history on this year. At this point, I did what any history buff, Google/Wiki-savvy, mid-twenties college student would do, and I searched for an American History timeline. As it turns out, this is the year that the Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (from May 25 to September 17). This convention resulted in the creation of the United States Constitution as we refer to it today. Shame on me for not remembering this important year in American history.