Monday, November 18, 2013

My Hometown Paper Retracts Its 1863 Editorial on the Gettysburg Address


In case you have not heard, the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News, known in 1863 as the Patriot & Union, did not like Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  In light of tomorrow's 150th anniversary of the address, the newspaper has decided to retract its editorial.  Here is the editorial:

A Voice from the Dead We have read the oration of Mr. Everett. We have read the little speechesof President Lincoln, as reported for and published in his party press, and we have read the remarks of the Hon. Secretary of State, Wm. H. Seward,all delivered on the occasion of dedicating the National Cemetery, a plot ofground set apart for the burial of the dead who fell at Gettysburg in thememorable strife which occurred there between the forces of the FederalGovernment and the troops of the Confederacy of seceded States.To say of Mr. Everett's oration that it rose to the height which the occasiondemanded, or to say of the President's remarks that they fell below ourexpectations, would be alike false. Neither the orator nor the jestersurprised or deceived us. Whatever may be Mr. Everett's failings he doesnot lack sense - whatever may be the President's virtues, he does notpossess sense. Mr. Everett failed as an orator, because the occasion was amockery, and he knew it, and the President succeeded, because he actednaturally, without sense and without constraint, in a panorama which wasgotten up more for his benefit and the benefit of his party than for the gloryof the nation and the honor of the dead. We can readily conceive that the thousands who went there went asmourners, to view the burial place of their dead, to consecrate, so far ashuman agency could, the ground in which the slain heroes of the nation,standing in relationship to them of fathers, husbands, brothers, orconnected by even remoter ties of marriage or consanguinity, were to beinterred. To them the occasion was solemn; with them the motive washonest, earnest and honorable. But how was it with the chief actors in thepageant, who had no dead buried, or to be buried there; from none of whoseloins had sprung a solitary hero, living or dead, of this war which was begotten of their fanaticism and has been ruled by their whims?They stood there, upon that ground, not with hearts stricken with grief orelated by ideas of true glory, but coldly calculating the political advantages which might be derived from the solemn ceremonies of the dedication. We will not include in this category of heartless men the orator of the day; but evidently he was paralyzed by the knowledge that he was surrounded by unfeeling, mercenary men, ready to sacrifice their country and theliberties of their countrymen for the base purpose of retaining power and

accumulating wealth. Hi oration was therefore cold, insipid, unworthy theoccasion and the man. 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 thatthey shall be no more repeated or thought of.But the Secretary of State is a man of note. He it was who first fulminatedthe doctrine of the irrepressible conflict; and on the battle field and burialground of Gettysburg he did not hesitate to re-open the bleeding wound,and proclaim anew the fearful doctrine that we are fighting all these bloody battles, which have drenched our land in gore, to upset the Constitution,emancipate the negro and bind the white man in the chains of despotism.On that ground which should have been sacred from the pollution ofpolitics, even the highest magnate in the land, next to the Presidenthimself, did not hesitate to proclaim the political policy and fixed purposeof the administration; a policy which if adhered to will require more groundthan Gettysburg to hold our dead, and which must end in the ruin of thenation. The dead of Gettysburg will speak from their tombs; they will raisetheir voices against this great wickedness and implore our rulers todiscard from their councils the folly which is destroying us, and return tothe wise doctrines of the Fathers, to the pleadings of Christianity, to thecompromises of the Constitution, which can alone save us. Let our rulershearken to the dead, if they will not to the living - for from every tomb which covers a dead soldier, if they listen attentively they will hear asolemn sound invoking them to renounce partisanship for patriotism, andto save the country from the misery and desolation which, under theirpresent policy, is inevitable.