A New Birth of Freedom: The 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address

On March 31, 1963, Pres. John F. Kennedy, some family members and friends, drove from Camp David to tour the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa.  History doesn’t record him honoring the 100th anniversary of Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.

However, on Nov. 19, 1963, Kennedy issued a message urging Americans to rededicate themselves to the goals of Abraham Lincoln.  It read: “Let us remember those thousands of American patriots whose graves at home, beneath the sea and in distant lands are silent sentries of our heritage.  Lincoln and others did indeed give us a new birth of freedom, but the goals of liberty…are never ending.”

Those words were read aloud in Gettysburg during the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s most famous speech. That ceremony also featured an address by former President Dwight Eisenhower who had preceded Kennedy in the White House.  Kennedy wasn’t there, but Eisenhower – who, in all fairness, built a house on the edge of Gettysburg – attended the ceremony.

Kennedy was a great speaker, in the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.  The guy knew how to give a speech.  But he was busy campaigning for the 1964 election, getting ready for his trip to Dallas, Texas, where it was rumored that he was unpopular.  A Congressman riding with Vice President Lyndon Johnson in the ill-fated motorcade noted that the people on the street were smiling and waving; but from the office windows above the route, he saw only dour scowls.  JFK no inkling of what lay ahead and wasn’t thinking much about another great speaker 150 years earlier.

However, Kennedy did visit Gettysburg for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1963. “Five score years ago,” he said, “the ground on which we here stand shuddered under the clash of arms and was consecrated for all time by the blood of American manhood. Abraham Lincoln, in dedicating this great battlefield, [expressed], in words too eloquent for paraphrase or summary, why this sacrifice was necessary.”

Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, delivered on Nov. 19, 1863, was to dedicate a new cemetery, The Soldiers National Cemetery, to the fallen soldiers of Gettysburg.  History tells us that he went through several drafts, the first supposedly on the back of an envelope.  The speech was all of 272 words.  There were no microphones in those days.  When he finished, he was met with silence and feared his speech had not gone over well.  One newspaper criticized the speech roundly and soundly.  This year the editors apologized for their predecessors’ misjudgment.

The speech was just over two minutes and ten sentences in length.  One of the reasons Lincoln may have delivered such a short speech was that he was ill.  On the train trip from Washington to Gettysburg, he complained of weakness, dizziness, and a severe headache.  Scholars later concluded that he may have been in the prodromal period of small pox.  It was the last speech Lincoln would ever write:

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 battlefield 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 this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot 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.

Eyewitness reports vary as to their view of Lincoln’s performance. In 1931, the printed recollections of 87-year-old Mrs. Sarah A. Cooke Myers, who was 19 when she attended the ceremony, suggest a dignified silence followed Lincoln’s speech: “I was close to the President and heard all of the Address, but it seemed short. Then there was an impressive silence like our Menallen Friends Meeting. There was no applause when he stopped speaking.” According to historian Shelby Foote, after Lincoln’s presentation, the applause was delayed, scattered, and “barely polite.”  In contrast, Pennsylvania Governor Curtin maintained, “He pronounced that speech in a voice that all the multitude heard. The crowd was hushed into silence because the President stood before them…It was so Impressive! It was the common remark of everybody. Such a speech, as they said it was!”  Reinterment of soldiers’ remains from field graves into the cemetery, which had begun within months of the battle, was less than half complete on the day of the ceremony.

In an oft-repeated legend, Lincoln is said to have turned to his bodyguard and remarked that his speech, like a bad plow, “won’t scour.” According to Garry Wills, this statement has no basis in fact and largely originates from the unreliable recollections of Lamon. In Garry Wills’s view, “[Lincoln] had done what he wanted to do [at Gettysburg].”

In a letter to Lincoln written the following day, Everett praised the President for his eloquent and concise speech, saying, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”   Lincoln replied that he was glad to know the speech was not a “total failure.”  Another accounts note that the speech was so short that people in the back of the crowd did not realize Lincoln had finished speaking.

Other public reaction to the speech was divided along partisan lines. The Democratic-leaning Chicago Times observed, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”  In contrast, the [then-] Republican-leaning New York Times was complimentary.  In Massachusetts, the Springfield Republican printed the entire speech, calling it “a perfect gem” that was “deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma.” The Republican predicted that Lincoln’s brief remarks would “repay further study as the model speech.”

The Harrisburg Patriot & Union, about 35 miles northeast of Gettysburg, printed a dismissive editorial describing the speech as “silly remarks” that deserved a “veil of oblivion.”  This year, its success the Patriot-News of Harrisburg apologized, retracting their predecessors’ remarks, saying that the 1863 coverage was wrong

The president’s speech is now considered a triumph of American oratory.

The retraction, which echoes Lincoln’s now-familiar language, said the newspaper’s November 1863 coverage was wrong when it described the speech as “silly remarks” that deserved a “veil of oblivion.”  The editors write that the paper regrets the error of its predecessors not seeing its “momentous importance, timeless eloquence and lasting significance.”

Kennedy made a mistake in not personally attending the ceremony.  He put politics before history.  Civil rights were very much in the forefront of American politics in 1963, with Blacks agitating for their civil rights and he may not have want to stir the fires of controversy by commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s elegy.   By the way, the farmer who owned the field where Pickett’s Charge took place was a free Black man.  Just saying.

Obama is stubbornly determined to make the same error.  The ghosts of those same notions about the Civil War and its purpose haunt us today, as they did in 1963 and in 1863.  Some Northern soldiers are recorded writing home to say that they signed up to preserve the Union, not free the slaves.  Blacks held the same view.  This philosophy is the heart and soul of Black Liberation Theology.

Northerners in New York and Pennsylvania, weary of the war, were ready to give in to the South and withdraw their support of the war.  Draft riots burned in the streets of Philadelphia and New York City.  Lincoln was desperate for Americans to understand why the war was important;  General Lee, desperate to return his Army South before there was no army left, wanted to press this political and populist advantage in order to end the war.

And it almost worked.  In January of that year, Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an Executive Order of sorts, freeing the slaves by fiat.  The South was not pleased, nor was the North.  Nevertheless, the slaves were liberated and now Lincoln had to unify the country and resign them to the fact that Blacks were equal human beings.

Obama – our “president” – our first Black “president” – will not be attending the ceremonies in Gettysburg this morning (at 10 a.m.).  According to news reports, his schedule is open.  Gettysburg is no more than a short helicopter ride away from Camp David, just over the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania.

So why does he refuse to go?  Well, to begin with, the contrast between Lincoln’s brief, two-minute speech and Obama’s professorial lectures is a yawning chasm.  Obama doesn’t know when to stop.  Obama must use a teleprompter and has all the advantages of modern technology.  Lincoln had only his own, rather high-pitched voice.  Obama could never admit that Lincoln was a better speaker than he is.

Then there’s the matter of Black Liberation Theology.  To set foot in Gettysburg, and worse, to visit the graves of the White northern soldiers would totally demolish his premise that these soldiers had made the ultimate sacrifice to free the slaves.  The nation, maybe, but not the Blacks.  History may even be on his side.  But all the same, they gave their lives for their country.  The issue was not merely states’ rights but states’ rights to hold other human beings in bondage.

Obama was not the product of a union of slaves.  He was born to a free African from Kenya who, as far as we know, never became an American, and a white, Communist mother from the Mid-West.  There is no slavery in his blood, no connection, no heritage to which he can relate.  The best he can manage is British Colonialism in Kenya.  A far cry from moldering graves in Gettysburg.

Right from the first paragraph of the address, Obama would have “issues”:  “Fourscore 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.”

As far as Obama and the Progressives are concerned, those “fathers” brought forth Capitalism, greed, slavery, and disease.  “Liberty” is a dirty word to Obama, connoting selfishness and individualism.  The Founding Fathers, according to the Obama Doctrine, did not believe that all men were created equal or they would not have practiced slavery.  Never mind that this was a president speaking 242 years after the Pilgrims had landed.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.”

This was Lincoln, in his second paragraph, defining the war for the doubters and the objectors who felt the war was simply being fought to keep the nation together.  Lincoln had to silence the doubters who felt it might be better to let the South keep its slaves, even if that meant belying our Declaration of Independence.  Lincoln nothing to lose in this plea; he’d signed his own death warrant when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Obama is not dedicated to the proposition of a nation conceived in selfish liberty.  He would never honor a speech that said so, even if it was given in the cause of freeing the Black slaves.

“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 this nation might live.”

To Obama, the men lying in those graves are not heroes, but self-serving racists keeping a Capitalist, imperialist nation alive.

“But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”

Again, Obama would not agree that the Union soldiers were any braver than the Confederate soldiers fighting for slavery.  He would insolently deny that his power to detract from their heroic sacrifices is poor.

“The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

If Obama has his way, the world will forget and someday the entire Gettysburg National Park will be mowed down to make way for Affordable Housing.

“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.”  Nobility.  Another notion that Obama would dismiss.

“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.”

Obama would rather be anywhere than in Gettysburg on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  To do so would to betray his allegiance to Black Liberation Theology, keeping alive the notion that White people are irrevocably racist.

“-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom –“

Hold on, hold on.  Did Lincoln really say ‘under God’ and “a new birth of freedom’?  We know he did; there’s no doubt of that.  But for Obama to go to Gettysburg today, he would be expected to repeat those words.  Not a chance.  No way.  Dream on.

“-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

A government of, by, and for the people?  We expect Obama, a black president, to recite those words, standing on the burial ground of men he and his followers consider to be white racists?  To recite those words would negate everything for which he’s been trained and labored since he was a bong-smoking student in college.

Perish the thought.

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Published in: on November 19, 2013 at 9:31 am  Comments (2)  

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