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Posts for Tag: Lincoln

159th Anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

I've always found that there are certain word combinations or turns of phrase that, when I read them, bypass my brain's regular processing and go directly to some verbal nerve center I seem to have. I know when this happens because I'll get goosebumps or chills even just thinking about these phrases or sentences.

One example of this kind of phrase is contained within citations that accompany the awarding of the Medal of Honor, the highest US military award that can be bestowed. In this case the goosebump phrase is "Conspicuous Gallantry". Perhaps it's because the term "Gallantry" is rarely ever used these days? Or maybe it's because it so tidily compresses a huge concept into just two words? If the author of these citations were to have written "clearly visible courageous behavior" instead, do you get an idea about what I'm talking about? It's as if in compressing the expression of a thought, it somehow becomes more powerful. I envy people who can do that.

Another example of one of these phrases is the reason behind today's rather long post, here. :-) Being that today, November 19, is the 159th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and being that I recently got sucked down a rabbit hole while reading one motorcycle rider's account of his trip to Sturgis, South Dakota, (long story) I find myself thinking about Lincoln's speech and the phrase "... last full measure of devotion..." The full context of the phrase, as used in Lincoln's speech, is "...that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion..."

I wasn't able to verify one particular comment made by this motorcycle guy in his article, and that's what got me scouring the various accounts of the time, but the search was interesting. I'm sure I was also dragged into this rabbit hole because I've just started reading "Killing Lincoln" and am to the point where Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox. Both of these reasons lead me back in time to read various people's and publications' opinions on the Gettysburg Address.

I had no idea just how disliked Lincoln was during his time in office, not only by those in the southern states, but in states like Illinois, New York and Washington DC too.

After his election in 1860, but even prior to the certification of the electoral votes, 7 states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas) had already seceded from the Union. They became part of the group of southern states that would eventually form the Confederate government. They would later be followed by 4 more. (Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Three more, more northernly states, almost joined them. More on those three in a bit.

From the history-repeats-itself department, before the electoral votes could be counted, there were fears of violence on Capitol Hill, with the New York times writing that, "*the counting of the electoral votes would never be peacefully accomplished.*” There were rumors of plots to take the city, blow up public buildings, etc. all to prevent the inauguration of Lincoln. 

An Illinois newspaper, the Salem Advocate, described Lincoln this way. "*The illustrious Honest Old Abe has continued during the last week to make a fool of himself and to mortify and shame the intelligent people of this great nation. His speeches have demonstrated the fact that although originally a Herculean rail splitter and more lately a whimsical story teller and side splitter, he is no more capable of becoming a statesman, nay, even a moderate one, than the braying ass can become a noble lion. People now marvel how it came to pass that Mr. Lincoln should have been selected as the representative man of any party. His weak, wishy-washy, namby-pamby efforts, imbecile in matter, disgusting in manner, have made us the laughing stock of the whole world. The European powers will despise us because we have no better material out of which to make a President. The truth is, Lincoln is only a moderate lawyer and in the larger cities of the Union could pass for no more than a facetious pettifogger. Take him from his vocation and he loses even these small characteristics and indulges in simple twaddle which would disgrace a well bred school boy.*"

Lincoln had to sneak into Washington for his inauguration, late at night and in disguise, to keep from being assassinated. This too became fodder for the press. Vanity Fair wrote, "*By the advice of weak men, who should straddle through life in petticoats instead of disgracing such manly garments as pantaloons and coats, the President-elect disguises himself after the manner of heroes in two-shilling novels, and rides secretly, in the deep night, from Harrisburg to Washington.*"

Lincoln had won the 1860 election with just 39.8% of the popular vote. To this day, no President has been elected with a lower percentage of the popular vote. It has been estimated that, if there were opinion polls done in 1861, like the opinion polls of today, Lincoln would have come in at around a 25% approval rating. Eastern cities saw him as a weakling, the South saw him as an outsider and as the poster-child for a vast and corrupt political system.

Having survived his inauguration, Lincoln spent the next few years managing the Civil War. In 1863 he issued the Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves, but only in the states that had seceded from the Union. Shortly thereafter, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio were considering secession as well. They halted their Army recruitment in the meantime. In response, Congress passed the "Draft Law" (I guess this was before bills took on names that had nothing to do with their intent), the first federal conscription law, which lead to the largest insurrection in US history (aside from the Civil War itself) in New York City, the largest city in the country. Many factors played into this riot, the details of which are a huge study opportunity unto themselves, but it can be summed up as one of the most horrific events in US history. It took Union troops, returning from the Battle of Gettysburg to quell the riots.

After the summer of the Draft Riots, we finally get to November, 19, 1863 when Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address to commemorate the Gettysburg National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the war's deadliest battle. That's the name it goes by today, but it was originally known as Soldiers' National Cemetery. 

Oddly enough, at least by today's standards, the President was not the "headline speaker" at this event. That role fell to a man named Edward Everett, politician, pastor and diplomat, considered to be one of the great speakers of that era. He spoke for more than 2 hours, vs Lincoln's address which lasted only 2 minutes. No one remembers the 2-hour speech. Newspapers were able to fit the text of Lincoln's entire speech into their coverage without sacrificing too much column space.

Reactions to the address

The Chicago Times wrote, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.

Lincoln, himself, said, "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here."

The Patriot and Union newspaper, based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, just 40 miles from Gettysburg, introduced a re-printing of the Address just some 4 days later, with the following preamble:
"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."
150 years later in 2013, the paper, now known as the Patriot News, retracted their editorial.
"In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln's speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error."

The Atlantic Magazine, in 2013, opined on why the Patriot & Union newspaper got it so wrong.
"Part of it was good, old-fashioned partisan rancor: Papers back then were openly—institutionally—partisan. Pens were sharp and bitter. And the Patriot and Union was a Democratic publication. So."

Some people believe the Patriot and Union held a bit of a grudge because in the prior year, 1862, four high-ranking members of the Patriot and Union staff were arrested for being suspected of sedition. They were imprisoned for 16 days without a hearing.

And now, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

"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."

An account of the Address written in the Gold Hill Daily News

An excerpt from the Ken Burns Civil War series, describing Lincoln's Gettysburg Address