Patterico's Pontifications


Gettysburg Address: 156 Years Ago Today

Filed under: General — Dana @ 9:23 am

[guest post by Dana]

[Ed. Understanding that most readers have done their own extensive reading on Lincoln and this particular speech, consider this brief overview a jumping off point.]

Today is the 156th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. A little more than four months after one of the worst battles in the Civil War took place at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – a three-day battle in which the combined casualties reached a staggering 51,000 – President Abraham Lincoln marked the end of the ceremonies dedicating the battlefield cemetery with a short, 272-word speech known as the Gettysburg Address.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate we can not consecrate we can not hallow, this ground The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

As has been previously noted, it was not a well received speech at the time, and it wasn’t until quite some time later that it got a most-deserved second look:

In the days that followed Abraham Lincoln’s 272-word speech to thousands of onlookers in this small Pennsylvania farm town, few newspapers in the country immediately reported on the speech.

When they did, explains historian Michael Kraus, it was mostly dour examination, filled with misquotes of the 16th president’s words.

“There were a lot of mistakes in those first reports. Words weren’t heard well, order was mixed up. The speech didn’t appear in every newspaper the next day, or the next day, or the next day,” Kraus said from his artifact-filled basement office at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh, where he serves as the curator.

When it finally did, the reviews were sharply critical.

“A paper in Boston ripped it to shreds; so did other papers across the North,” said Kraus.

Even the local Harrisburg paper, the Harrisburg Patriot and Union, dismissed it as mindless gibberish. “We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of,” it opined.

In truth, it took decades for anyone to think much of the speech, or even think of it all.

“It wasn’t until well over a quarter-century later that it began to emerge in the American psyche across the country that this speech was more than a speech, it defined who we were for eternity,” said Kraus days before the 155th anniversary of a speech that took less than two minutes to give and nearly a 100 years to reach the reverence it holds today.

Interestingly, President Lincoln was not the featured speaker that day. Rather, he was an afterthought:

The invited featured speaker at the dedication was Edward Everett, the former president of Harvard College and one of the 19th century’s most celebrated orators. Everett spoke for two hours. Following his long presentation, Lincoln, in a black suit, tall silk hat and white gloves, spoke for two minutes, delivering a powerful speech that has remained one of the most inspirational and eloquent expressions in the English language. From the time of its first delivery, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has stood as an American touchstone, offering comfort and inspiration to the living by honoring the sacrifices of the dead.

Lincoln formulated the Gettysburg Address with great thought, but the brevity of the President’s address was in such contrast to Everett’s long oration that the audience was surprised and slow to respond, so that Lincoln feared his effort had fallen short. Everett afterwards wrote to the President: “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as close to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Everett’s own Gettysburg address can be found here. And here is a wonderful thread about Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address.

(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)


38 Responses to “Gettysburg Address: 156 Years Ago Today”

  1. A change of scenery from all things impeachment…

    Dana (cb74ca)

  2. Lincoln made maybe about four or five copies of the speech later, upon request, so at least some people were interested. (and without that how did anyone get an accurate transcript? Combining different versions?)

    I don’t think it can be right that it took a quarter of a century for great interest to develop about the speech. Of course, somebody might have started promoting it in the 1880s.

    Sammy Finkelman (c95a5a)

  3. Here are the different versions.

    Dana (cb74ca)

  4. Lincoln is surely the greatest orator in the English language.

    In addition to Gettysburg, both his inaugural addresses, the debates with Douglas, and his Cooper Union speech are all masterpieces unequaled before or since.

    Dave (660159)

  5. Lincoln is surely the greatest orator in the English language.

    Mr. Churchill might want to have a word with you, Dave. But both men are great because they were remarkably well-read, had a flair for the dramatic, and most of all because what they were telling us was not the product of pollsters and focus groups, it was what they held deeply in their minds and their hearts.

    On another topic, though: Can anyone fathom that once upon a time our fellow citizens would sit and listen to a two-hour oration, let alone that someone would speak that long? I suppose most everyone has seen Peter Norvig’s parody of the Gettysburg Address done as a PowerPoint presentation.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  6. The South could not win the war militarily, as it hadn’t the industrial capacity or manpower. Gettysburg and the northern campaign were Lee’s “Tet” — an attempt to win politically.

    Without the victory or one like it, Lincoln could easily have been defeated for re-election. His opponent favored a negotiated settlement. Gettysburg sent Lee into retreat and Lincoln to a second term, and made the northern victory inevitable.

    Kevin M (19357e)

  7. Lincoln is surely the greatest orator in the English language.

    Churchill wasn’t shabby. Shakespeare wrote some great speeches (e.g. Henry IV, Julius Caesar). Reagan’s speeches to the Evangelicals and at Normandy were first rate.

    Hard to say, but “surely” seems to overstate it.

    Kevin M (19357e)

  8. Can anyone fathom that once upon a time our fellow citizens would sit and listen to a two-hour oration

    Far fewer options in time-passing.

    Kevin M (19357e)

  9. Mr. Churchill might want to have a word with you, Dave.

    Like Lincoln, Churchill had the advantage of fighting for a good cause, but there is a humility and sincerity to Lincoln that I find more appealing than Churchill’s studied bombast.

    Dave (fcd131)

  10. There being no TV, Radio, film, Internet, or recorded music, people weren’t into “Brevity” back then. They wanted to sit back and hear a great orator gone on for one or two hours. They weren’t impressed by Lincoln.

    rcocean (1a839e)

  11. I always thought the Gettysburg address a nice bit of hoo-ha. Was the USA really dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”? Doubtful.

    rcocean (1a839e)

  12. Bob Newhart’s take on Gettysburg

    Kevin M (19357e)

  13. #6 The idea that McClellan favored a “negotiated peace” is doubtful. The D party may have, he didn’t. McClellan might have given the South VERY lenient terms, but only if they’d rejoined the Union. Which Jeff Davis and his gang, had NO intention of doing.

    rcocean (1a839e)

  14. Was the USA really dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”?

    There is a difference between “dedication” and the actuality. The same man who wrote that “dedication” owned slaves.

    Kevin M (19357e)

  15. #13. You assume that McClellan would have even been the nominee if Lee was still active in the north. He had some baggage wrt to the war. Besides that, his position was inches from capitulation going in to the election; what makes you think he would have held that line with his party wanting out. Think Obama and Iraq.

    Kevin M (19357e)

  16. @14 general benjamin butler freed the slaves first in norfolk and then in new orleans to force lincolns hand on emancipation.

    asset (c4cf71)

  17. Oramel Barrett, the editor of the Harrisburg Patriot and Union at the time, was known as a proponent of the ‘radical wing of the Democratic Party’.

    Imagine that.

    harkin (337580)

  18. The battle hymn of the republic was first named john brown’s body. While others dithered and rung their hands he acted! Shows you what one person can do when they really try! Lincoln as well as the abolutionists in the north could never convince the south that they were john brown supporters. When harriet tubman (who was forcibly restrained from going) ask fredrick douglass why he wasn’t with john brown at harpers ferry he said “I was always better at running then I am at fighting and I will say no more in my defense!”

    asset (c4cf71)

  19. I know I’ve posted this before but I like it so much I’ll do it again:

    Henry Fonda as CINCPAC discussing Lincoln, McClellan and the virus of indecision w John Wayne as Adm. Torrey in In Harm’s Way.

    When I was a kid this started my reading binge on civil war generals.

    harkin (337580)

  20. You assume that McClellan would have even been the nominee if Lee was still active in the north.

    I have no idea what this means, or where I assumed that. I’m talking history, not “What if”. We know McClellan’s thoughts and policies. Its in his letters and his speeches in Fall 1864. And what he said after the election.

    rcocean (1a839e)

  21. 1) I never mentioned McClellan, but suggested that Lee could have won Southern Independence politically in 1864.

    2) You responded to that supposition by stating what McClellan did in actuality, which either ignores my supposition or adds to it, but in neither case refutes it.

    Kevin M (19357e)

  22. Can anyone fathom that once upon a time our fellow citizens would sit and listen to a two-hour oration

    Hey, my poor students sit through an hour and twenty minutes of me twice a week!

    Shows you what one person can do when they really try!

    Brown’s terrorism only discredited the cause he claimed to support and strengthened those he opposed.

    Dave (fc89e1)

  23. Was the USA really dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”? Doubtful.

    I guess you are forgetting the Declaration of Independence:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal….

    So, yes, the USA really was dedicated to that proposition, even if performance on that issue was and has been spotty.

    Chuck Bartowski (bc1c71)

  24. Brown’s terrorism only discredited the cause he claimed to support and strengthened those he opposed.

    And fanned the fear of what might happen if white folk let go of the wolf’s ears.

    Kevin M (19357e)

  25. Off-topic: Newsome bans new fracking in CA. This is a road test of the next Democrat administration.

    Someone ought to file an initiative in CA to abandon the CA-mandated gasoline formulation in favor of the EPA-mandated formulation for smoggy areas. Chicago has that, and gas prices are $1/gallon cheaper. Put Big Green on the defensive for once.

    Kevin M (19357e)

  26. Kevin! What is going on with you?

    You wrote:

    #13. You assume that McClellan… Kevin M (19357e) — 11/19/2019 @ 11:54 am

    Then you write:

    1) I never mentioned McClellan[*]… Kevin M (19357e) — 11/19/2019 @ 1:12 pm

    Why do you act this way?

    *Are you crossing your fingers behind your back, saying to yourself, “It’s true! I didn’t mention him in another comment.”?

    felipe (023cc9)

  27. Thanks, Dana. I didn’t know (or forgot) that Lincoln’s speech was not received well.

    norcal (eec1aa)

  28. #19 There’s been more baloney written about McClellan than any other American General. His main problem is McClellan kept getting bad intelligence that vastly over-estimated how many men Lee had. But I agree with some of the critics. McClellan was “Slow”. He wanted everything right before he attacked and he cared too much about his men. He never could act like Grant, who could send 5,000 men off to die in a hasty, ill-conceived attack and never bat an eye.

    rcocean (1a839e)

  29. @24 browns liberation attempt (only people with I’ll never forget bumper stickers on their trucks and they are right they should never forget that you LOST!say terrorist.) alowed the election of lincoln and defeated stephen douglass in the south. John browns raid hastened the end of slavery. D.e.b. dubois walked barefoot to john brown’s grave in admiration and malcolm X said We don’t cotton much to white people in the movement ;but if john brown was alive today we would make an exception in his case. frederick douglas said I could live to free the slaves john brown could die to free the slaves! H.rap brown said “he is the only white man I respect!”

    asset (0fcbdc)

  30. I’ve just finished Gwynne’s new book Hymns of the Republic, which covers more or less the last 12 months of the war. In his telling, Lincoln was assailed by Radical Republicans who thought he was too weak and mismanaged the war, and on the other side by Democrats who just wanted an end to the war. He argues that McClellan would have ended up agreeing to Southern Independence, because the other Democratic option, return to the atatus quo ante (including survival of slavery) would have solved nothing. If any battle won the election for Lincoln, it was the surrender of Atlanta to Sherman in September 1864.

    As for Gettysburg itself, the battle in the overall war was not nearly as important as the surrender of Vicksburg to Grant, which took place on July 4. Gettysburg was fought July 1-3.

    Kishnevi (2717fb)

  31. Grant also usually attacked at the right time and in the right way using intelligence which was more accurate using better instincts in the field.

    McClellan kept asking for more and more men to Lincoln’s exasperation after telling him he would attack. He also hated Lincoln and considered him subhuman, which may have something to do with not cooperating w Lincoln’s orders.

    Almost all historians agree however that he was one of the best training generals of his era, he just wasn’t a fighter.

    harkin (337580)

  32. 30 – “the battle in the overall war was not nearly as important as the the surrender of Vicksburg to Grant, which took place on July 4.

    the citizens of Vicksburg were so bent that the city did not officially celebrate the 4th of July until 1945.

    harkin (337580)

  33. Actually Grant screwed up numerous times, and often ended in stalemate. His superiority was in refusing to give up even when Lee seemed to have won the day. His most important decision came immediately after the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Until then every Union general had stopped to reorganize and often retreat. Grant went forward.

    Lincoln said of him “I like this man, he fights.” Which made him a bit unique among the Union commanders.

    Kishnevi (2717fb)

  34. “I like this man, he fights.” – Abraham Lincoln.


    felipe (023cc9)

  35. Coincidentally, today is also the 50th anniversary of those historic and inspiring words from the late and diminutive Pete Conrad, America’s third man to step on the moon; words destined to be etched not in marble, but common lunar basalt- to be quoted only by Trivial Pursuit players and a future Jeopardy contestant:

    “Whoopee! That may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.”

    He said it to win a bet.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  36. Today is also marks the start (in 1942) of Operation Uranus, the Soviet counter-offensive that cut off and eventually annihilated the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad.

    Dave (fcd131)

  37. “I’m the second man to walk on the moon, Neil before me” – Buzz

    harkin (337580)

  38. The History of John Brown’s behavior in Kansas strikes me as proof that what he principally was, was a bloody minded bastard who latched onto Abolition as an excuse.

    C. S. P. Schofield (757b7b)

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