Gettysburg Address: not so silly after all

Lincoln_recolouredThe Patriot-News, a newspaper in central Pennsylvania, printed an amusing retraction of its ancestor’s original, uncomplimentary, review of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

“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.” …

We write today in reconsideration of “The Gettysburg Address,” delivered by then-President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the greatest conflict seen on American soil. Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time, called President Lincoln’s words “silly remarks,” deserving “a veil of oblivion,” apparently believing it an indifferent and altogether ordinary message, unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity.

Or perhaps the paper mistook quantity for quality, as oratory of mind-numbing length was apparently par for the course at the time. (Edward Everett, who was the featured orator at the Gettysburg dedication, spoke for two hours, followed by Lincoln, who spoke for about two minutes.)

The Gettysburg Address has stood the test of time – 150 years today, to be exact. Here it is, in its complete (and brief) majesty:

Four score 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.

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 have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

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 consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, 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.

Abraham Lincoln

November 19, 1863

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  • Maggie

    Having lived in Patriot News territory for much of my life I can assure you that many of their writers would write the same thing today. Anything coming out of Harrisburg is about as reliable as what comes out of DC. They just do not get it….so I moved.