Meet the Press   |  April 13, 2014

Ken Burns' New Documentary on 'The Address'

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns talks with David and the roundtable about President Lincoln’s "Gettysburg Address," a speech that shaped history and impacts today’s generation through the power of speech.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

tuesday marks 149th anniversary of president lincoln 's assassination at the ford theater here in washington. ken burns has come. he's made a new documentary of the impact of the gettysburg address . always great to have you here.

>> thanks.

>> this was -- you live up near a school where the gettysburg address was playing a buying role.

>> it's called the greenwood school in putney, vermont. i was asked ten years ago to be a judge. the boys there, only boys, 50 of them, have dyslexia, adha, a alphabet soup of learning differences, they're asked to memorize and then publicly recite in front of a few hundred people lincoln's gettysburg address . we embedded ourselves for three months a year or so ago and watched them learn it. the trials and trib bations, the fights, the disagreements, the helping each other and it begins to remind you that in this republic of ours words matter and they endure. this is in my opinion the greatest speech ever made in the american english language by a president who is doubling down on the declaration. he was creating a declaration 2.0. first one said all men are created equal, but the guy who wrote that owned 100 human buildings. four score and seven years later he's coming back to the site of the greatest battle and saying we believe we can the birth of a new freedom. we listen to not new speeches from politicians, we listen to something that has nothing to do with 9/11, we listen to the gettysburg address . these kids take on something we don't do in our school anymore which is memorization and putting it on their hard drive permanently and you can see them escape the gravity of their disabilities, their differences and get to this new place.

>> it's so striking. we were talking about this, that for someone with some learning difficulties , this is how an old speech can live anew because the brilliance was its brevity to use it to overcome some difficulty.

>> and you know, i had the really great privilege of reading and reciting the gettysburg address with three sets of high school students in my district, and i was inspired when i heard ken burns take this challenge on. we uploaded it onto the website. the young people really enjoyed it, the teachers taught to it and it's been a great lesson.

>> i feel sorry for edward everett who is supposed to be the star, went for two hours --

>> a little bit short of two hours but he wrote the president graciously jaferdsward and said i wish i could flatter myself to think i came as close to the central meat of the thing in two hours as did you in two minutes but it's a very difficult two minutes. he places the word here throughout it all the time. dedicated here that we're here dedicated, those who died here. it's tough for any of us to internalize. as we watched these boys do it, we said if they can do it all of us ought to be able to do if and if you go to learn the you will see all the living presidents reciting it, david gregory , and many people in our media culture, bill o 'reilly and also rachel maddow . nancy pelosi and marco rubio . lincoln is a great place to start to have a civil discourse.

>> you have to remember the context.

>> this was four months after a battle that was the most blood soaked military experience the country had had.

>> ever, yeah. and it's still the greatest battle ever fought on american style . 56,000 casualties, 185,000 soldiers involved. he comes to the now quiet battlefield to add a few appropriate remarks after edward everett 's speech and nails it home and this is the operating system that still is our operating system .

>> what's interesting is how short it was but think about it in today's age of sound bites . people would have taken off heres if it didn't fit on twitter.

>> the real anxiety i have is what if somebody gave a gettysburg address today, maybe c span might have it. certainly we wouldn't be able to pick it up in the speed and rapidity in our news cycles --

>> maybe he understood before any of us the digital age.

>> but nobody --

>> too wordy.

>> i have a feeling that lincoln would be able to cut through.

>> yeah.

>> and i think his brevity --

>> but you don't think somebody --

>> even on twitter.

>> you don't think would say the president came to gettysburg to distract attention from his disastrous military campaign out west.

>> i will leave it there. it's called the address and airs tuesday 9:00 p.m . on pbs. thank you for coming around