Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gettysburg Address Anniversary

Here's an interesting article that appeared in the Lorain Journal on November 16, 1963 – a few days short of the 100th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address.

It's a well-written article and perfectly suited for today, November 19, 2013 – the 150th anniversary of the event.


Gettysburg Address: Classic Reaches Century Mark Nov. 19
Few in 15,000 Crowd Recognized Greatness of Address At Time President Lincoln Spoke

(Reprinted from the Nov. 9 issue, Buffalo Evening News)

At Gettysburg, Pa., near mid-afternoon of Nov. 19, 1863, an estimated 15,000 Americans heard – or saw – the President of the United States as he spoke ten sentences dedicating a soldiers' cemetery.

Since Abraham Lincoln's voice carried well, and his habit – in a pre-microphone era – was to say important things slowly, most of those present probably heard him.

Whether they grasped what he said, or realized that they had heard one of history's most thoroughly prepared addresses, was quite another matter.

That many, if any, expecting a long speech may be doubted. The printed program stipulated plainly that the President was to make "Dedicatory Remarks."

Edward Everett, Massachusetts statesman and former president of Harvard, had just spoken ably for two hours. Long before the event, it had been known that he, not Lincoln, was the orator of the day.

That any appreciable number wished for more than a few remarks taxes credulity. Most of the listeners were both tired and hungry. They had stood for hours, missing their noon meal.

The procession from town had been late, and then the crowd had waited until Everett returned tardily from a tour of the battlefield that was the scene of – and the reason for – the dedication.

As it was, the program did not end till after 2:30 p. m.

Even so, the President's actual brevity – popular though it was sure to be – took many by surprise.

The only photographer who might have taken a picture of Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address was still going through the old tripod - and - shawl routine when the former Rail-Splitter sat down.

Surprised or not, the circumstances impose a heavy burden of proof upon all persons – whether in the crowd or on the platform – who later said that they or others were disappointed, or critical, because the President's remarks required no more than three minutes instead of ten, or whatever had been expected.

What John Hay, the junior of Lincoln's two private secretaries, put in his diary next day cannot be overlooked, He wrote:

"...Mr. Everett spoke he always does, perfectly – and the President, in a fine, free way, with more grace than is his wont, said his half-dozen words of consecration, and the music wailed, and we went home through crowded and cheering streets."

Obviously, young Hay did not think that Lincoln had failed in any sense of the word.

Neither did he – a Brown University class poet with a still unsatisfied yearning for letters – show the slightest  awareness of having heard a masterpiece.

If he did not, what then was to be expected of the burghers of Gettysburg and their wives, or of the equally weary and famished politicians, clerks, military men, diplomats and others who, as the Pennsylvania Dutch phrase went, had come "from off."

Only later – much later – did most of those who were there begin to remember things, and they contradicted each other on nearly every detail.

There was "a hurricane of applause," for instance, or there was "no applause whatsoever," or there was just a dignified "ripple." So the testimony ran, all, of course, from witnesses of unimpeachable veracity.

Lincoln's speech was not casual; not dashed off on the back of an old envelope. There was nothing impromptu about it.

It was a speech that had grown within him, one that he was determined to make – and one that he painstakingly edited through five extant manuscript versions, two before, three after he spoke, and all slightly different from each other and what was taken down and sent over the wires.

On the evening of July 7, 1863, Lincoln had been serenaded at the White House. Word had come of Vicksburg's surrender to Gen. Grant on July 4.

Responding extemporaneously, the President warmed to a theme.

"How long ago was it? 80 odd years – since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, as assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that "all men are created equal."

"That was the birthday of the United States of America."

Without naming them, Lincoln then interpreted both Vicksburg and Gettysburg as defeats for opponents of "the principle that all men are created equal."

Prophetically, he announced amid cheers:

"Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme, and the occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the occasion."

Clearly, he was working toward – living his way into – a text beginning:"Fourscore and seven years ago..."

Whatever else he was or was not when spoke at Gettysburg on November 19, he was prepared.

At first, he had not even figured in the cemetery commission's plans for the dedication. He received merely a formal invitation – printed and impersonal. He was invited to make his remarks only after he had let it be known that he intended to be there.

Actually, he had been living with his "glorious theme" long before the Fourth of July made memorable by Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

Some of the central ideas had shaped themselves in the mind of a young frontierman who became a prairie lawyer, who would say as Lincoln had, quite forthrightly in New Haven in 1860.

Vaughn Shoemaker political cartoon
that appeared with this article in the Journal
"I am not ashamed to confess that 25 years ago I was a hired laborer mauling rails, at work on a flat-boat – just what might happen to any poor man's son. I want every man to have the chance – and I believe the black man is entitled to it – in which he can better his condition..."

With the ten sentences of Nov. 19 the resolute foe of slavery, the Lincoln agonizing for mankind, revealed himself as he wished posterity to remember him. It was a Lincoln who had been masked at times by Lincoln the politician and Lincoln the statesman.

But it was not a new Lincoln, for his collected private and public writings show that he had been through the years a protagonist of amazing consistency – biding his time.

Ten sentences. With them, he dedicated a cemetery. He also redefined the war's purpose, dedicating himself and his countrymen to an unfinished task.

Above and beyond that, he rededicated a nation to "a proposition" that Jefferson, the Adamses, Franklin, the Lees – and all the other signers of the Declaration of Independence – had accepted as "self-evident."


Anonymous said...

Thanks Dan!

Anonymous said...

No byline? I'd be curious as to who wrote it for the Buffalo Evening News.
Don Wozniak