Thank you for this post. With the 155th anniversary of the Gettysburg campaign going on, the battle’s anniversary coming up in less than a month and the 155th anniversary of the speech coming in November, It is well that we remember this amazing speech and the man who wrote it.
Of all the excellent books on Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech, my favorite is Gabor Boritt’s “The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knows.” More than a simple analysis of the words, Boritt leads us from the battle itself through the speech and into the 20th century with research and an analysis that shakes the truth of the speech from the myths built up around it.
I like the way he points out the fact that what was actually said on the podium that day is a question mark. As hard as it is for us to believe Edward Everett’s two hour speech was the big hit of the day. Everett’s speech was pre-published to all the newspapers and was considered a resounding success. Although most modern people would probably struggle to sit through a two hour recitation, people loved and expected that back then. Lincoln, on the other hand was still working on his drafts the night before and even added to his written text on the fly, as he was speaking.
This is what I really find interesting about Boritt’s book, he analyzes all five copies that were actually written by Lincoln (the two pre-speech rough drafts that survive and the three post-speech copies he wrote out for Sanitary Commission fairs) and he compares them with the various news accounts of the speech, which are key because the reporters used short-hand to actually get what was said. For instance the “under God” was added on the fly, was in the news accounts that were heard, but is not in the written rough drafts. Although no one actually knows exactly what was said, Boritt gives us a speech that is a cross between the news reports and the written texts that is probably as close as we can get to hearing what was said.
Boritt, the director of Civil War studies at Gettysburg College, also shows us how the speech became famous. No, the speech was not universally disliked at the time as many would have us believe, it was praised by many, however, it was short, it was unusual, many Democrats disliked Lincoln anyway, but most importantly, Boritt points out, it was our national racism that finally made it famous.
What? Yes, interestingly it was the Emancipation Proclamation and not the Gettysburg Address that Lincoln was most famous for after the war. Reconstruction though, wore out the Nation. The entire Country, not just the Southern part of it, abandoned the freed slaves. By Hayes’ election in 1877 Reconstruction was over and the South reined victorious. North and South, racist Americans wanted to forget Emancipation ever happened. It was not until this happened that Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech began to grow in popularity. It was not until the 20th century that it became the speech to be memorized in schools and the speech that was carved into metal and mounted on every Court House.
That is a hard pill for many of us to swallow, but Boritt lays out the evidence and makes an excellent case for it. Me, I am glad the Gettysburg Address has gained the recognition it deserves. Maybe we have grown enough as a Nation and can finally recognize both the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation at the same time.
As this 155th anniversary year passes I think about how lucky we are to live now. As the “myth” of Lincoln fades and the actual human being begins to emerge, I become more and more impressed with him. He was human.
Evidence of his bouts of depression have come to light. How could he not have been depressed; he lost a son before the war and one during. Southern states had shredded his beloved Constitution and were tearing the Country he worked so hard for apart. Radical Republicans in the North thought him weak and called him a “first rate, second rate man.” Northern Democrats spoke out against him at every turn. Many Americans would struggle with that kind of life, no less lead a Country through the bloodshed of a rebellion.
Evidence of his own belief in white supremacy have come to light. Not only his pre-war words from the Douglas debates days, but he met with black community leaders at the White House in August of 1862, essentially blamed the war on them, told them whites and negroes could never live together in the same land, and asked them to colonize. He was a man of his times and he was also ahead of his times. His attitude toward African-Americans began to shift far before others in the Country. Seeing the brilliance of the USCT’s in battle may have been the most important factor in shifting his attitude. He had known the EP was a temporary war-measure, but after seeing the Freedmen in battle he wanted their Freedom permanent and fought hard to get the 13th Amendment passed. He was an American and, like America itself, began to better understand our ignorance about race and began to do something about it.
I like Lincoln the man much better than Lincoln the myth. He was human, he had faults, just like me. But he was also able to rise above his humanity to lead our Country through a Constitutional crisis, to write brilliant poetry, like the Gettysburg Address, and glorious prose, like his second Inaugural Address; giving me the hope that all of us can also rise above our frail humanity to be better people!
Thanks for the post,