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Recommitting to A New Birth of Freedom: The Gettysburg Address at 154 Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In November 1863 President Abraham Lincoln travelled to Gettysburg Pennsylvania yards behind the temporary to attend and say a few words at the dedication of the Soldiers Cemetery where the remains of the Union dead who had not been recovered by their families and taken home for burial were being interred by local laborers. When Lincoln arrived the process was barely halfway complete. The ground on West Cemetery Hill was still scarred by the battle that took place barely four and a half months prior, a battle that was the deadliest in United States military history in which the Army of the Potomac under the command of George Gordon Meade defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s storied Army of Northern Virginia.

Lincoln was not the primary speaker, that honor went to Edward Everett, former Secretary of State, Senator, and Representative from Massachusetts. Everett, an academic from Harvard was also a leader in the Greek Revival and the Rural Cemetery movement in the United States. Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery, less than 100 yards behind the temporary structure from which Everett and Lincoln would speak was a legacy of the movement that Everett had helped to begin. Now Everett was the primary orator at the dedication of of this cemetery dedicated to the Union dead, and Lincoln, the President there as more of window dressing.

Everett spoke for nearly two hours providing an impressive narrative of the battle. When he ended his speech, which was not long by the standards of his day it was left to Lincoln to say a few words. Those few words are now part of the lexicon of American secular scripture along with the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the United States Constitution, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech, andDr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

His words are the antithesis of what is so often heard in American political discourse today. The fact is that while many Americans give lip service to all of these speeches, we have to admit that there is a significant portion of our population that not only give lip service to their ideas but actually oppose them, instead valuing theocracy, racism, authoritarianism, and militarism more than the ideals that the United States was founded upon. Despite that, they remain something that we must strive to pursue until this nation actually experiences the new birth of Freedom that Lincoln ended up dying to see established.

Lincoln’s words which he penned over a number of days were not long, and while some like Everett himself thought that they eclipsed his own words, many politicians and members of the press thought little of them. However, those words probably encapsulate the ideas of the founders better than any words outside of the Declaration of Independence. I will leave you with those words. So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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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Filed under civil rights, civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, Political Commentary

When Political Parties Implode, Pt 2: The 1860 Democratic Convention

democratic convnetion

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Over the past six months or so I have alluded to events in the Republican Party that make it appear that it is about to implode. I am a historian, and there is precedent in American history for the collapse of a national political party. This happened before in the 1854 collapse of the Whig Party, the 1912 division in the republican Party, but more importantly during the 1858 through 1860 collapse of the Democratic Party. Now I am not a person to say that history repeats itself. there are similarities and trends, but nothing is ever exactly the same as to why different parties collapse.  

While the issues of each day may be different there are common threads of humanity, hubris and hatred that unite to destroy political parties. I think that this is happening now in the Republican Party, and that it is possible that something similar may occur with the Democratic Party in the coming years. So it is important to look at history whenever possible to see how different political leaders responded in times of intense ideological, economic, social, national, and sectional division.

This is a three part series on the disaster that the Democratic Party made for itself and the country between 1858 and 1860. This second part deals with the after effects of the Lecompton Constitution fiasco during the 1860 Democratic Party Conventions in Charleston and Baltimore.

This is a section of one of the chapters of my Civil War and Gettysburg text and I hope that you will find it interesting and thought provoking.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

The fight over Lecompton was a watershed in American politics that those who wrote the Constitution of the United States could not have imagined. The deeply partisan fight served to illuminate how easily “minuscule minorities’ initial concerns ballooned into unmanageable majoritarian crises. The tiny fraction of Missouri slaveholders who lived near the Kansas border, comprising a tinier fraction of the South and a still tinier fraction of the Union, had demanded their chance to protect the southern hinterlands.” [1] The crisis that Kansas Democrats provoked drew in the majority of Southern Democrats who came to their aid in Congress and President Buchanan. This provoked Northerner, including Democrats to condemn the Southern minority, which they believed was disenfranchising the majority of people in the territory in order to expand slavery there and to other territories in the west.

The issue of Lecompton crisis galvanized the political parties of the North and demolished any sense of national unity among the Democrats. The split in the Democratic Party mirrored the national divide and the party split into hostile Northern and Southern factions, which doomed it as a national party for the foreseeable future.

Following Lecompton the intra-party Democrat divide widened as “Pro-Douglas and pro-Buchanan Democrats openly warred on one another for the next two years; an unacknowledged but real split had taken place.” [2]

The battle over the Lecompton Constitution also marked the first time that a coalition Northern Democrats sided with anti-slavery forces to defeat pro-slavery legislation in congress. Though the measure to admit Kansas as a slave state was defeated it was a narrow victory; the “Republicans and anti-Lecompton Douglas Democrats, Congress had barely turned back a gigantic Slave Power Conspiracy to bend white men’s majoritarianism to slavemaster’s dictatorial needs, first in Kansas, then in Congress.” [3]

The political impact of the Lecompton crisis on the Democratic Party was an unmitigated disaster. The party suffered a major election defeat in the 1858 mid-term elections and lost its majority in the House of Representatives even though it barely maintained a slim majority in the Senate. While the victorious Republicans had won the election, they made little legislative headway since the Democrats still controlled the Senate and James Buchanan remained President. In a sense “there were two Democratic parties: one northern, on southern (but with patronage allies in the north); one having its center of power in the northern electorate and in the quadrennial party convention… the other with its center of power in Congress; one intent on broadening the basis of support to attract moderate Republicans, the other more concerned to preserve a doctrinal defense of slavery even if it meant driving heretics out of the party.” [4] Democratic Party divide fulfilled what Lincoln had said about the country, as the Democratic Party had “became increasingly a house divided against itself.” [5]

democrat condenders

Douglas’s courageous opposition to the fraud of Lecompton would be the chief reason for the 1860 split in the Democratic Party as Southern Democrats turned with a vengeance on the man who had been their standard bearer during the 1856 Democratic primary. “Most southern Democrats went to Charleston with one overriding goal: to destroy Douglas.” [6] The party decided to meet in the Charleston to decide on their platform and the man who would be their standard bearer in the election of 1860. When the convention met in April 1860 it rapidly descended into a nightmare for the Democrats as “Southern delegates were much more intent on making a point than on nominating a presidential candidate.” [7] The “Southern delegates demanded a promise of federal protection of slavery in all the territories and a de facto veto in the selection of the party’s presidential candidate” [8] in order to block the nomination of Douglas. Southern radicals “led by William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama stood for seven days agitating for a pro-slavery platform.” [9]

Ohio Democrat George A. Pugh responded to the Southern fire-eaters and said that “Northern Democrats had worn themselves out defending Southern interests – and he declared that the Northern Democrats like himself were now being ordered to hide their faces and eat dirt.” [10] Georgia Senator Alexander Stephens who had moderated his position and was supporting Douglas wrote that the radicals “strategy was to “rule or ruin.” [11] When their attempts to place the pro-slavery measures into the party platform were defeated by Northern delegates, it prompted “a walkout by delegates from Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.” [12] This deprived Douglass of the necessary two thirds majority needed for the nomination and “the shattered convention adjourned, to reconvene in Baltimore on June 18,” [13] the “incendiary rhetoric left the Democratic Party in ashes.” [14] A friend of Alexander Stephens suggested that the party might patch things up in Baltimore, but Stephens dismissed the suggestion and told his friend, “The party is split forever. The only hope was in Charleston.” [15]

Old line former Whigs who feared the disintegration of the country led by Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden formed their own convention, the Constitutional Union Party and declared a pox on both the Buchanan and Douglas factions of the Democratic Party. They nominated a rather cold and uninspiring moderate slave owner, the sixty-four year old John Bell of Tennessee as their candidate for President and “then chose a man who overshadowed him, Edward Everett of Massachusetts, aged sixty-seven, as the vice-presidential nominee.” [16] But this ticket had no chance of success, as Bell “stood for moderation and the middle road in a country that just now was not listening to moderates, and the professional operators were not with him.” [17]

When the Democratic Party convention reconvened the results were as Stephens predicted. Another walk out by Southern delegates resulted in another and this time a final split. “Rival delegations from the Lower South States arrived in Baltimore, one side pledged to Douglas and the other to obstruction. When the convention voted for the Douglas delegations, the spurned delegates walked out, this time joined by colleagues from the Upper South.” [18] Though Douglas did not have the two-thirds majority, the convention “adopted a resolution declaring Douglas unanimously nominated.” [19] A day later the radicalized Southern delegates nominated their own candidate, the current Vice President, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky as their candidate “for president on a slave-code platform.” [20]

There were now four presidential tickets, three composed of Democrats and former Whigs, “each supported by men who felt that they were following the only possible path to salvation. A Republican victory was almost certain, and the Democrats, who had the most to lose from such a victory, were blindly and with a fated stubbornness doing everything they could to bring that victory to pass.” [21]

The Democratic Party had imploded and doomed the candidacies of Douglas and Breckinridge. The Augusta Daily Chronic and Sentinel editorialized, “It is an utterly futile and hopeless task to re-organize, re-unite and harmonize the disintegrated Democratic party unless this is to be done by a total abandonment of principle… No, sensible people might as well make up their minds to the fact that the Democratic party is dissolved forever, that new organizations must take its place.” [22]    

Notes

[1] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.140

[2] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.213

[3] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.142

[4] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.394

[5] Fehrenbacher, Don E. Kansas, Republicanism, and the Crisis of the Union in The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition edited by Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.94

[6] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.213

[7] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[8] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.216

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.121

[10] Catton, Bruce The Coming Fury Phoenix Press, London 1961 p.32

[11] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.215

[12] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.121

[14] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[15] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.46

[16] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.417

[17] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.46

[18] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.168

[19] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.413

[20] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.216

[21] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.69

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.121

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Filed under civil war, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Unfinished Work of the New Birth of Freedom

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am on the way back from another Staff Ride with my students to Gettysburg. For me the place is incredibly important, when I go it is not just a trip back into history, it is an intensely spiritual trip, especially when I visit the National Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. For me, like Lincoln, this is hallowed ground, and a place from which I always recommit myself to the unfinished work of the New Birth of Freedom, a work that has all too often suffered due to those who for whatever reason, be it racial, economic or political are willingly to work against freedom and equality. The message of the address takes us back to those words of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights; among them life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Sadly these noble words of our founders in the Declaration were not meant for all. They were only applicable to White men and not to African Americans, Native Americans or women. In fact the Constitution was explicit in treating blacks as less than human. For eight-seven years blacks awaited some form of redemption, and that came initially in the Emancipation Proclamation. Six months later Robert E. Lee was defeated at Gettysburg. When the Cemetery was dedicated Lincoln recalled and made the first steps by an American President, all but two of whom before him had been slaveowners to begin to universalize the promise of those words in the Declaration. He talked of a new birth of freedom, and reminded his audience that the mission was not finished and that “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…” 

The following is a chapter of my Gettysburg text which deals with that event and that speech. 

Have a great weekend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

gburg address

I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg. It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed, consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country. When I take my students there I always finish at the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I think about those men of both sides, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause who fought valiantly in the struggle. That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.

Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…” [1]

On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period.

Everett was one of the leading orators of his day. Everett was “a scholar and Ivy-League diplomat who could hold mass audiences in thrall. His voice, diction, and gestures were successfully dramatic, and he always performed his carefully written text, no matter how long, from memory.” [2]

The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, in those words “Lincoln, nevertheless managed to justify the ways of democracy more than anyone, then or now.” [3]

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. 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.” [4]

The speech is short, but its eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. During the fall of 1863 after a series of inconclusive battles in northern Virginia both Lee and Meade’s armies had sent significant numbers of troops to the west, to support operations in eastern Tennessee.

Lee sent Longstreet’s First Corps, which took part in the bloody battle of Chickamauga, which “is a Cherokee word meaning “river of death.” [5] where on September 19th and 20th the Federal Army of the Cumberland under General Rosecrans “were soundly whipped at …and driven back into the strategic point of Chattanooga.” [6] The number of casualties on both sides, over 16,000 Federal and 18,000 Confederate, a “combined total of 34,634 was exceeded only the three day slaughter at Gettysburg and by the week-long series of five battles known collectively as the Seven Days.” [7] Despite the number of casualties it was one of the biggest Confederate victories of the war. A clerk in Richmond wrote “The whole South will be filled again with patriotic fervor, and in the North there will be a corresponding depression.” [8] That changed rapidly when the Union reacted quickly and reversed the strategic situation. One action taken was to deploy Oliver Howard’s XI Corps and Henry Slocum’s XII Corps west, where “they would be commanded by Joe Hooker, who was conveniently at hand and unemployed.” [9]

In the east during the following weeks “Lee and Meade, like two wounded, spent gladiators, sparred listlessly along the Rapidan. It seemed to Northerners that the fruits of Gettysburg had been thrown away.” [10] Lee sensed an opportunity to go back on the offensive against Meade’s weakened army, but his offensive was stopped on October 14th when “the Union Second Corps shattered a reckless attack by A.P. Hill’s corps at Bristoe Station, five miles south of Manassas.[11]

There was a faction in the North, the Copperheads, who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even allowing for Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. They “clamored for negotiations with the Confederacy to restore the Union on the basis of status quo antebellum and, until the closing months of the war charged that as long as the antislavery party remained in power the restoration of the Union could not be achieved.” [12] They believed that the war was a failure and that military action could not be achieved by force of arms.

The leading Copperheads included Clement Vallandigham of Ohio and George W. Woodward of Pennsylvania were typical, both opposed the use of force against Confederate secession; Woodward had written in 1860 that “Slavery was intended as a special blessing to the people of the United States,” that “Secession is not disloyalty” and “I cannot condemn the South for withdrawing….I wish Pennsylvania could go with them.” [13] The efforts of the Copperheads to gain governorships in Ohio and Pennsylvania met defeat in November 1863, as the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg “undercut their theme of the war’s failure.” [14] Their efforts would persist through the 1864 Presidential election, but instead of preaching the war’s failure they would concentrate on defeating emancipation. The Copperheads, “labeled all Republicans, including Lincoln, as radicals bent upon destroying the Union and undermining the Constitution.” [15]

However, the anti-abolitionist and racist views espoused by the northern Democrat Copperheads had begun to lose their potency in the North after July of 1863 with the onset of “the New York draft riot, which shocked many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of virulent racism” [16] and the sacrifice of the African American 54th Massachusetts Infantry when it assaulted Fort Wagner outside of Charleston South Carolina, which occurred “just after the Democratic rioters in New York had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum. Few Republican newspapers failed to point the moral: black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [17]

It is also important to understand how Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg is reflective of the various intellectual and philosophical movements of the time. Even the location of the cemetery and the burial plots within it was significant. A Gettysburg lawyer, David Wills proposed to “Governor Andrew Curtain of Pennsylvania the establishment of a soldiers’ cemetery where the Union dead could be reburied with dignity and honor.” [18] The place was then outside the city, a plot of 17 acres purchased by Wills adjacent to the existing town cemetery on Cemetery Hill. That was significant culturally, for the Gettysburg Cemetery was part of a movement called the Rural Cemetery movement. The movement was part of the Greek revival in the United States and connected with the Transcendentalist movement.

The Rural Cemetery movement was launched at Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Edward Everett was a key figure in it. Mount Auburn “took Athens’s Kerameikos as its model, since that ancient burial ground existed outside the city proper, near the groves of the Akademy, in what was still countryside.” [19] In his speech at Mount Auburn’s dedication, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted:

“The Greeks exhausted the resources of their exquisite art in adorning the habitations of the dead. They discouraged internments within the limits of their cities; and consigned their relics to shady groves, in the neighborhood of murmuring streams and merry fountains, close by the favorite resorts of those who were engaged in the study of philosophy and nature, and called them, with the elegant expressiveness of their own beautiful language, cemeteries or “places of repose.” [20]

He further noted:

“Our cemeteries, rightly selected and properly arranged, may be made subservient to some of the highest purposes of religion and human duty. They may preach lessons to which none may refuse to listen and which all that live must hear. Truths may there be felt and taught, in the silence of our meditations, more persuasive and more enduring than ever flowed from human lips.” [21]

Everett in his Gettysburg oration linked what they were doing at the Soldiers’ Cemetery with the Greek tradition:

“It was appointed by law in Athens, that the obsequies of the citizens who fell in battle should be performed at the public expense, and in the most honorable manner. Their bones were carefully gathered up from the funeral pyre where their bodies were consumed, and brought home to the city. There, for three days before the interment, they lay in state, beneath tents of honor, to receive the votive offerings of friends and relatives,–flowers, weapons, precious ornaments, painted vases (wonders of art, which after two thousand years adorn the museums of modern Europe),–the last tributes of surviving affection. Ten coffins of funereal cypress received the honorable deposit, one for each of the tribes of the city, and an eleventh in memory of the unrecognized, but not therefore unhonored, dead, and of those whose remains could not be recovered….” [22]

The layout of the cemetery, and the manner in which the dead were buried was also significant when one considers the messages of both Everett and Lincoln that day. “The cemetery at Gettysburg was arranged so that every grave was of equal importance; William Saunders’s design, like Lincoln’s speech, affirmed that every dead soldier mattered equally regardless of rank or station.” [23] In this place “some 3,577 Union soldiers (half of them unknown) from eighteen states are buried.” [24]

The speeches of Everett and Lincoln are deeply connected with Romanticism, the Greek revival and the Transcendentalist movement in the United States. Both were children of the enlightenment, and Everett, a former President of Harvard was well versed in these subjects and Lincoln, though a politician who appealed to the tenets of the Enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Lincoln appealed to the “sacred principles of the laws of nature,” and hailed “the constitution and laws” as “hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.” For Lincoln, the war was a test of the practical worth of liberalism.” [25]

Everett had been a mentor to some of the leading Transcendentalist thinkers of his era including Ralph Waldo Emmerson who found that the experience of “Everett’s classroom gave him an entirely new direction in life. He wrote:

“Germany had created [literary] criticism in vain for us until 1820, when Edward Everett returned from his five years in Europe, and brought to Cambridge his rich results, which no one was so fitted by natural grace and splendor of his rhetoric to introduce and recommend….The novelty of the learning lost northing in the skill and genius of its interpreter, and the rudest undergraduate found a new morning opening to him in the lecture room at Harvard.” [26]

Everett, who had previously dedicated battlefields at Bunker Hill, as well as Lexington and Concord, was at his best when dedicating battlefields and cemeteries. He spent weeks preparing his speech. Everett had studied the battle and knew it well from official reports and talks with those who fought it. Everett painted a vivid picture of the battle for his audience and connected the sacrifice of those who fought and died to preserve the Union form antiquity and from those who founded the nation. He noted why they had gathered:

“We have assembled, friends, fellow-citizens, at the invitation of the Executive of the great central State of Pennsylvania, seconded by the Governors of seventeen other loyal States of the Union, to pay the last tribute of respect to the brave men who, in the hard-fought battles of the first, second, and third days of July last, laid down their lives for the country on these hillsides and the plains before us, and whose remains have been gathered into the cemetery which we consecrate this day. As my eye ranges over the fields whose sods were so lately moistened by the blood of gallant and loyal men, I feel, as never before, how truly it was said of old that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country. I feel, as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice their lives, that their fellow-men may live in safety and in honor. And if this tribute were ever due, to whom could it be more justly paid than to those whose last resting-place we this day commend to the blessing of Heaven and of men?” [27]

In his narrative Everett aspired to more than mere accuracy. Along “with Bancroft and other romantic historians of his time, he meant to create a tradition that would inspire as well as inform. Like the Attic orators- and dramatists- he knew the power of symbols to create a people’s political identity.” [28]

Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and philosophical depth of the address are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940. Likewise it echoes the Transcendentalist understanding of the Declaration of Independence as a “test for all other things.”

Many in the United States and Europe did not agree and argued that no nation found on such principles could long survive. The more reactionary European subscribers of Romanticism ridiculed the “idea that a nation could be founded on a proposition….and they were not reluctant to point to the Civil War as proof that attempting to build a government around something as bloodless and logical as a proposition was futile.” [29]

But Lincoln disagreed. He believed that the “sacrifices of Gettysburg, Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chancellorsville, and a hundred other places demonstrated otherwise, that men would die rather than to lose hold of that proposition. Reflecting on that dedication, the living should themselves experience a new birth of freedom, a determination- and he drove his point home with a deliberate evocation of the great Whig orator Daniel Webster- “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” [30]

The Unitarian pastor and leading Transcendentalist Theodore Parker wrote:

“Our national ideal out-travels our experience, and all experience. We began our national career by setting all history at defiance- for that said, “A republic on a large scale cannot exist.” Our progress since that has shown that we were right in refusing to be limited by the past. The practical ideas of the nation are transcendent, not empirical. Human history could not justify the Declaration of Independence and its large statements of the new idea: the nation went beyond human history and appealed to human nature.” [31]

Likewise Lincoln’s address echoes the thought of George Bancroft who wrote of the Declaration:

“The bill of rights which it promulgates is of rights that are older than human institutions, and spring from the eternal justice…. The heart of Jefferson in writing the Declaration, and of Congress in adopting it, beat for all humanity; the assertion of right was made for the entire world of mankind and all coming generations, without any exceptions whatsoever.” [32]

Parker’s words also prefigured an idea that Lincoln used in his address, that being: The American Revolution, with American history since, is an attempt to prove by experience this transcendental proposition, to organize the transcendental idea of politics. The ideal demands for its organization a democracy- a government of all, for all, and by all…” [33]

Lincoln delivered these words on that November afternoon:

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 cannot 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.[34]

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr. Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.” [35]

Dr. Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.

The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory. Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those men that volunteered to serve, the war was not about personal gain, loot or land, it was about something greater. It was about freedom, and when we realize this fact “then we can contemplate the real meaning of “that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” [36]

Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those around the world who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed ground I am again a believer. I believe that we can realize the ideal, even in our lifetime should we desire.

Notes

[1] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels, Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.28

[2] Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York 1992 p.25

[3] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.407

[4] Everett, Edward Letter from Edward Everett to Abraham Lincoln, (Transcription) 20 November 1863 retrieved from http://www.in.gov/judiciary/citc/files/everett-to-lincoln.pdf July 18th 2014

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.352

[6] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.758

[8] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.757

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.764

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.513

[11] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.200

[12] Harris, William C. With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY 1997 p.7

[13] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.685

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.685

[15] Ibid. Harris With Charity for All p.7

[16] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[17] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[18] McPherson, James M. This Hallowed Ground Crown Publishers, New York 2003 p.137

[19] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.63

[20] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.64

[21] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.65

[22] Everett, Edward Gettysburg Address retrieved from http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/everett-gettysburg-address-speech-text/ 21 August 2014

[23] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.100

[24] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.137

[25] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening pp.406-407

[26] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.45

[27] Ibid. Everett Gettysburg Address

[28] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.51

[29] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.409

[30] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.408

[31] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.110

[32] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[33] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[34] Lincoln, Abraham The Gettysburg Address the Bliss Copy retrieved from http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

[35] Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Sound Bite: Have Faith in Democracy New York Time Opinionator, November 17th 2013 retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/lincolns-sound-bite-have-faith-in-democracy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 July 18th 2014

[36] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.138

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Political Commentary

A New Birth of Freedom

gburg address

Friends of Padre Steve’s World. Yesterday we celebrated the 239th anniversary of American independence and the revolutionary document we know as the Declaration of Independence. I wrote about that yesterday and discussed the context of it as well as the contradiction to it posed by the institution of slavery. I talked about Abraham Lincoln and how for him the Declaration was the real heart of the American nation. In Novwmber of 1863 after nearly three years of bloody Civil War and about 10 months following the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln was invited to say a few words at the dedication of the Soldeirs Cemetary at Gettysburg. 

In those few words Lincoln redefined forever the concept of Liberty found in the Declaration, he universalized it. Though of practice of it often falls short, it is the high bar for which we must strive. If we do not we will return to the days when freedom was only for the few, and sadly there are many on the political right who not only believe that Liberty is reserved for the few but labor incessantly to prevent people from the full excercuse of the rights of citizenship and wherever possible to roll them back. 

I hope that you enjoy this.

Peace

Padre Steve+

I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I about to do again early next month. It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederates met in a three-day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed ground. Those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country consecrated them more than any of us could ever do. When I take my students there I always finish at the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I think about those men of both sides, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause who fought valiantly in the struggle. That being said when I go to Gettysburg my heart, my mind and my soul are with the men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike. This is despite the fact that my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy.

Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men to volunteer to serve before Gettysburg. These men volunteered for an ideal, an ideal for which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective means at articulating in an ideal that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…” [1]

On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period.

Everett was one of the leading orators of his day. Everett was “a scholar and Ivy-League diplomat who could hold mass audiences in thrall. His voice, diction, and gestures were successfully dramatic, and he always performed his carefully written text, no matter how long, from memory.” [2]

The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, in those words “Lincoln, nevertheless managed to justify the ways of democracy more than anyone, then or now.” [3]

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. 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.” [4]

The speech is short, but its eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. During the fall of 1863 after a series of inconclusive battles in northern Virginia both Lee and Meade’s armies had sent significant numbers of troops to the west, to support operations in eastern Tennessee.

Lee sent Longstreet’s First Corps, which took part in the bloody battle of Chickamauga, which “is a Cherokee word meaning “river of death.” [5] where on September 19th and 20th the Federal Army of the Cumberland under General Rosecrans “were soundly whipped at …and driven back into the strategic point of Chattanooga.” [6] The number of casualties on both sides, over 16,000 Federal and 18,000 Confederate, a “combined total of 34,634 was exceeded only the three day slaughter at Gettysburg and by the week-long series of five battles known collectively as the Seven Days.” [7] Despite the number of casualties it was one of the biggest Confederate victories of the war. A clerk in Richmond wrote “The whole South will be filled again with patriotic fervor, and in the North there will be a corresponding depression.” [8] That changed rapidly when the Union reacted quickly and reversed the strategic situation. One action taken was to deploy Oliver Howard’s XI Corps and Henry Slocum’s XII Corps west, where “they would be commanded by Joe Hooker, who was conveniently at hand and unemployed.” [9]

In the east during the following weeks “Lee and Meade, like two wounded, spent gladiators, sparred listlessly along the Rapidan. It seemed to Northerners that the fruits of Gettysburg had been thrown away.” [10] Lee sensed an opportunity to go back on the offensive against Meade’s weakened army, but his offensive was stopped on October 14th when “the Union Second Corps shattered a reckless attack by A.P. Hill’s corps at Bristoe Station, five miles south of Manassas.[11]

There was a faction in the North, the Copperheads, who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even allowing for Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. They “clamored for negotiations with the Confederacy to restore the Union on the basis of status quo antebellum and, until the closing months of the war charged that as long as the antislavery party remained in power the restoration of the Union could not be achieved.” [12] They believed that the war was a failure and that military action could not be achieved by force of arms.

The leading Copperheads included Clement Vanlandingham of Ohio and George W. Woodward of Pennsylvania were typical, both opposed the use of force against Confederate secession; Woodward had written in 1860 that “Slavery was intended as a special blessing to the people of the United States,” that “Secession is not disloyalty” and “I cannot condemn the South for withdrawing….I wish Pennsylvania could go with them.” [13] The efforts of the Copperheads to gain governorships in Ohio and Pennsylvania met defeat in November 1863, as the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg “undercut their theme of the war’s failure.” [14] Their efforts would persist through the 1864 Presidential election, but instead of preaching the war’s failure they would concentrate on defeating emancipation. The Copperheads, “labeled all Republicans, including Lincoln, as radicals bent upon destroying the Union and undermining the Constitution.” [15]

However, the anti-abolitionist and racist views espoused by the northern Democrat Copperheads had begun to lose their potency in the North after July of 1863 with the onset of “the New York draft riot, which shocked many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of virulent racism” [16] and the sacrifice of the African American 54th Massachusetts Infantry when it assaulted Fort Wagner outside of Charleston South Carolina, which occurred “just after the Democratic rioters in New York had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum. Few Republican newspapers failed to point the moral: black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [17]

It is also important to understand how Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg is reflective of the various intellectual and philosophical movements of the time. Even the location of the cemetery and the burial plots within it was significant. A Gettysburg lawyer, David Wills proposed to “Governor Andrew Curtain of Pennsylvania the establishment of a soldiers’ cemetery where the Union dead could be reburied with dignity and honor.” [18] The place was then outside the city, a plot of 17 acres purchased by Wills adjacent to the existing town cemetery on Cemetery Hill. That was significant culturally, for the Gettysburg Cemetery was part of a movement called the Rural Cemetery movement. The movement was part of the Greek revival in the United States and connected with the Transcendentalist movement.

The Rural Cemetery movement was launched at Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Edward Everett was a key figure in it. Mount Auburn “took Athens’s Kerameikos as its model, since that ancient burial ground existed outside the city proper, near the groves of the Akademy, in what was still countryside.” [19] In his speech at Mount Auburn’s dedication, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted:

“The Greeks exhausted the resources of their exquisite art in adorning the habitations of the dead. They discouraged internments within the limits of their cities; and consigned their relics to shady groves, in the neighborhood of murmuring streams and merry fountains, close by the favorite resorts of those who were engaged in the study of philosophy and nature, and called them, with the elegant expressiveness of their own beautiful language, cemeteries or “places of repose.” [20]

He further noted:

“Our cemeteries, rightly selected and properly arranged, may be made subservient to some of the highest purposes of religion and human duty. They may preach lessons to which none may refuse to listen and which all that live must hear. Truths may there be felt and taught, in the silence of our meditations, more persuasive and more enduring than ever flowed from human lips.” [21]

Everett in his Gettysburg oration linked what they were doing at the Soldiers’ Cemetery with the Greek tradition:

“It was appointed by law in Athens, that the obsequies of the citizens who fell in battle should be performed at the public expense, and in the most honorable manner. Their bones were carefully gathered up from the funeral pyre where their bodies were consumed, and brought home to the city. There, for three days before the interment, they lay in state, beneath tents of honor, to receive the votive offerings of friends and relatives,–flowers, weapons, precious ornaments, painted vases (wonders of art, which after two thousand years adorn the museums of modern Europe),–the last tributes of surviving affection. Ten coffins of funereal cypress received the honorable deposit, one for each of the tribes of the city, and an eleventh in memory of the unrecognized, but not therefore unhonored, dead, and of those whose remains could not be recovered….” [22]

The layout of the cemetery, and the manner in which the dead were buried was also significant when one considers the messages of both Everett and Lincoln that day. “The cemetery at Gettysburg was arranged so that every grave was of equal importance; William Saunders’s design, like Lincoln’s speech, affirmed that every dead soldier mattered equally regardless of rank or station.” [23] In this place “some 3,577 Union soldiers (half of them unknown) from eighteen states are buried.” [24]

The speeches of Everett and Lincoln are deeply connected with Romanticism, the Greek revival and the Transcendentalist movement in the United States. Both were children of the enlightenment, and Everett, a former President of Harvard was well versed in these subjects and Lincoln, though a politician who appealed to the tenets of the Enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Lincoln appealed to the “sacred principles of the laws of nature,” and hailed “the constitution and laws” as “hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.” For Lincoln, the war was a test of the practical worth of liberalism.” [25]

Everett had been a mentor to some of the leading Transcendentalist thinkers of his era including Ralph Waldo Emerson who found that the experience of “Everett’s classroom gave him an entirely new direction in life.” Emerson wrote:

“Germany had created [literary] criticism in vain for us until 1820, when Edward Everett returned from his five years in Europe, and brought to Cambridge his rich results, which no one was so fitted by natural grace and splendor of his rhetoric to introduce and recommend…. The novelty of the learning lost northing in the skill and genius of its interpreter, and the rudest undergraduate found a new morning opening to him in the lecture room at Harvard.” [26]

Everett, who had previously dedicated battlefields at Bunker Hill, as well as Lexington and Concord, was at his best when dedicating battlefields and cemeteries. He spent weeks preparing his speech. Everett had studied the battle and knew it well from official reports and talks with those who fought it. Everett painted a vivid picture of the battle for his audience and connected the sacrifice of those who fought and died to preserve the Union form antiquity and from those who founded the nation. He noted why they had gathered:

“We have assembled, friends, fellow-citizens, at the invitation of the Executive of the great central State of Pennsylvania, seconded by the Governors of seventeen other loyal States of the Union, to pay the last tribute of respect to the brave men who, in the hard-fought battles of the first, second, and third days of July last, laid down their lives for the country on these hillsides and the plains before us, and whose remains have been gathered into the cemetery which we consecrate this day. As my eye ranges over the fields whose sods were so lately moistened by the blood of gallant and loyal men, I feel, as never before, how truly it was said of old that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country. I feel, as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice their lives, that their fellow-men may live in safety and in honor. And if this tribute were ever due, to whom could it be more justly paid than to those whose last resting-place we this day commend to the blessing of Heaven and of men?” [27]

In his narrative Everett aspired to more than mere accuracy. Along “with Bancroft and other romantic historians of his time, he meant to create a tradition that would inspire as well as inform. Like the Attic orators- and dramatists- he knew the power of symbols to create a people’s political identity.” [28]

DSCN9741

Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and philosophical depth of the address are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940. Likewise it echoes the Transcendentalist understanding of the Declaration of Independence as a “test for all other things.”

Many in the United States and Europe did not agree and argued that no nation found on such principles could long survive. The more reactionary European subscribers of Romanticism ridiculed the “idea that a nation could be founded on a proposition….and they were not reluctant to point to the Civil War as proof that attempting to build a government around something as bloodless and logical as a proposition was futile.” [29]

But Lincoln disagreed. He believed that the “sacrifices of Gettysburg, Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chancellorsville, and a hundred other places demonstrated otherwise, that men would die rather than to lose hold of that proposition. Reflecting on that dedication, the living should themselves experience a new birth of freedom, a determination- and he drove his point home with a deliberate evocation of the great Whig orator Daniel Webster- “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” [30]

The Unitarian pastor and leading Transcendentalist Theodore Parker wrote:

“Our national ideal out-travels our experience, and all experience. We began our national career by setting all history at defiance- for that said, “A republic on a large scale cannot exist.” Our progress since that has shown that we were right in refusing to be limited by the past. The practical ideas of the nation are transcendent, not empirical. Human history could not justify the Declaration of Independence and its large statements of the new idea: the nation went beyond human history and appealed to human nature.” [31]

Likewise Lincoln’s address echoes the thought of George Bancroft who wrote of the Declaration:

“The bill of rights which it promulgates is of rights that are older than human institutions, and spring from the eternal justice…. The heart of Jefferson in writing the Declaration, and of Congress in adopting it, beat for all humanity; the assertion of right was made for the entire world of mankind and all coming generations, without any exceptions whatsoever.” [32]

Parker’s words also prefigured an idea that Lincoln used in his address, that being: The American Revolution, with American history since, is an attempt to prove by experience this transcendental proposition, to organize the transcendental idea of politics. The ideal demands for its organization a democracy- a government of all, for all, and by all…” [33]

Lincoln delivered these words on that November afternoon:

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 cannot 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.[34]

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr. Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.” [35]

Dr. Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.

The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory. Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those men that volunteered to serve, the war was not about personal gain, loot or land, it was about something greater. It was about freedom, and when we realize this fact “then we can contemplate the real meaning of “that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” [36]

Gettysburg_Unknowns.JPG

Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those around the world who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed ground I am again a believer. I believe that we can realize the ideal, even in our lifetime should we desire.

Notes

[1] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels, Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.28

[2] Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York 1992 p.25

[3] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.407

[4] Everett, Edward Letter from Edward Everett to Abraham Lincoln, (Transcription) 20 November 1863 retrieved from http://www.in.gov/judiciary/citc/files/everett-to-lincoln.pdf July 18th 2014

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.352

[6] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.758

[8] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.757

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.764

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.513

[11] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.200

[12] Harris, William C. With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY 1997 p.7

[13] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.685

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.685

[15] Ibid. Harris With Charity for All p.7

[16] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[17] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[18] McPherson, James M. This Hallowed Ground Crown Publishers, New York 2003 p.137

[19] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.63

[20] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.64

[21] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.65

[22] Everett, Edward Gettysburg Address retrieved from http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/everett-gettysburg-address-speech-text/ 21 August 2014

[23] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.100

[24] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.137

[25] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening pp.406-407

[26] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.45

[27] Ibid. Everett Gettysburg Address

[28] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.51

[29] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.409

[30] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.408

[31] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.110

[32] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[33] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[34] Lincoln, Abraham The Gettysburg Address the Bliss Copy retrieved from http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

[35] Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Sound Bite: Have Faith in Democracy New York Time Opinionator, November 17th 2013 retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/lincolns-sound-bite-have-faith-in-democracy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 July 18th 2014

[36] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.138

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, Gettysburg, History, Political Commentary

Abraham Lincoln & the New Birth of Freedom

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

On this weekend which we call the “President’s Day Weekend” I think it is appropriate to remember Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address. This is the last chapter of my Gettysburg text and since Lincoln is most closely connected with Emancipation and the End of Slavery I think that it is important to pause and remember his brief remarks at the dedication of the Gettysburg Soldier’s Cemetery. Those remarks are really important because they draw us back to the real source document of who we are as Americans, the Declaration of Independence. That document made the incredibly bold, and even revolutionary statement, that “all men are created equal.” Lincoln expanded those words to their logical end, that indeed all men, not just white landowners, were created equal. It is a concept that some in our country still struggle to accept. 

In a couple of weeks I will be going back to Gettysburg again with a group of my students.  The last stop on our “staff ride” is the Soldier’s cemetery. We go to the spot where it is believed that Lincoln gave his remarks and I take a few minutes to read his address. 

 

Have a great weekend and remember that freedom always comes with a price, and that the struggle for freedom, equality and justice has not ended.

Peace

Padre Steve+

gburg address 

I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I will again in a couple of weeks. It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed, consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country. When I take my students there I always finish at the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I think about those men of both sides, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause who fought valiantly in the struggle. That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.

Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…” [1]

On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period.

Everett was one of the leading orators of his day. Everett was “a scholar and Ivy-League diplomat who could hold mass audiences in thrall. His voice, diction, and gestures were successfully dramatic, and he always performed his carefully written text, no matter how long, from memory.” [2]

The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, in those words “Lincoln, nevertheless managed to justify the ways of democracy more than anyone, then or now.” [3]

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. 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.” [4]

The speech is short, but its eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. During the fall of 1863 after a series of inconclusive battles in northern Virginia both Lee and Meade’s armies had sent significant numbers of troops to the west, to support operations in eastern Tennessee.

Lee sent Longstreet’s First Corps, which took part in the bloody battle of Chickamauga, which “is a Cherokee word meaning “river of death.” [5] where on September 19th and 20th the Federal Army of the Cumberland under General Rosecrans “were soundly whipped at …and driven back into the strategic point of Chattanooga.” [6] The number of casualties on both sides, over 16,000 Federal and 18,000 Confederate, a “combined total of 34,634 was exceeded only the three day slaughter at Gettysburg and by the week-long series of five battles known collectively as the Seven Days.” [7] Despite the number of casualties it was one of the biggest Confederate victories of the war. A clerk in Richmond wrote “The whole South will be filled again with patriotic fervor, and in the North there will be a corresponding depression.” [8] That changed rapidly when the Union reacted quickly and reversed the strategic situation. One action taken was to deploy Oliver Howard’s XI Corps and Henry Slocum’s XII Corps west, where “they would be commanded by Joe Hooker, who was conveniently at hand and unemployed.” [9]

In the east during the following weeks “Lee and Meade, like two wounded, spent gladiators, sparred listlessly along the Rapidan. It seemed to Northerners that the fruits of Gettysburg had been thrown away.” [10] Lee sensed an opportunity to go back on the offensive against Meade’s weakened army, but his offensive was stopped on October 14th when “the Union Second Corps shattered a reckless attack by A.P. Hill’s corps at Bristoe Station, five miles south of Manassas.[11]

There was a faction in the North, the Copperheads, who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even allowing for Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. They “clamored for negotiations with the Confederacy to restore the Union on the basis of status quo antebellum and, until the closing months of the war charged that as long as the antislavery party remained in power the restoration of the Union could not be achieved.” [12] They believed that the war was a failure and that military action could not be achieved by force of arms.

The leading Copperheads included Clement Vallandigham of Ohio and George W. Woodward of Pennsylvania were typical, both opposed the use of force against Confederate secession; Woodward had written in 1860 that “Slavery was intended as a special blessing to the people of the United States,” that “Secession is not disloyalty” and “I cannot condemn the South for withdrawing….I wish Pennsylvania could go with them.” [13] The efforts of the Copperheads to gain governorships in Ohio and Pennsylvania met defeat in November 1863, as the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg “undercut their theme of the war’s failure.” [14] Their efforts would persist through the 1864 Presidential election, but instead of preaching the war’s failure they would concentrate on defeating emancipation. The Copperheads, “labeled all Republicans, including Lincoln, as radicals bent upon destroying the Union and undermining the Constitution.” [15]

However, the anti-abolitionist and racist views espoused by the northern Democrat Copperheads had begun to lose their potency in the North after July of 1863 with the onset of “the New York draft riot, which shocked many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of virulent racism” [16] and the sacrifice of the African American 54th Massachusetts Infantry when it assaulted Fort Wagner outside of Charleston South Carolina, which occurred “just after the Democratic rioters in New York had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum. Few Republican newspapers failed to point the moral: black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [17]

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It is also important to understand how Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg is reflective of the various intellectual and philosophical movements of the time. Even the location of the cemetery and the burial plots within it was significant. A Gettysburg lawyer, David Wills proposed to “Governor Andrew Curtain of Pennsylvania the establishment of a soldiers’ cemetery where the Union dead could be reburied with dignity and honor.” [18] The place was then outside the city, a plot of 17 acres purchased by Wills adjacent to the existing town cemetery on Cemetery Hill. That was significant culturally, for the Gettysburg Cemetery was part of a movement called the Rural Cemetery movement. The movement was part of the Greek revival in the United States and connected with the Transcendentalist movement.

The Rural Cemetery movement was launched at Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Edward Everett was a key figure in it. Mount Auburn “took Athens’s Kerameikos as its model, since that ancient burial ground existed outside the city proper, near the groves of the Akademy, in what was still countryside.” [19] In his speech at Mount Auburn’s dedication, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted:

“The Greeks exhausted the resources of their exquisite art in adorning the habitations of the dead. They discouraged internments within the limits of their cities; and consigned their relics to shady groves, in the neighborhood of murmuring streams and merry fountains, close by the favorite resorts of those who were engaged in the study of philosophy and nature, and called them, with the elegant expressiveness of their own beautiful language, cemeteries or “places of repose.” [20]

He further noted:

“Our cemeteries, rightly selected and properly arranged, may be made subservient to some of the highest purposes of religion and human duty. They may preach lessons to which none may refuse to listen and which all that live must hear. Truths may there be felt and taught, in the silence of our meditations, more persuasive and more enduring than ever flowed from human lips.” [21]

Everett in his Gettysburg oration linked what they were doing at the Soldiers’ Cemetery with the Greek tradition:

“It was appointed by law in Athens, that the obsequies of the citizens who fell in battle should be performed at the public expense, and in the most honorable manner. Their bones were carefully gathered up from the funeral pyre where their bodies were consumed, and brought home to the city. There, for three days before the interment, they lay in state, beneath tents of honor, to receive the votive offerings of friends and relatives,–flowers, weapons, precious ornaments, painted vases (wonders of art, which after two thousand years adorn the museums of modern Europe),–the last tributes of surviving affection. Ten coffins of funereal cypress received the honorable deposit, one for each of the tribes of the city, and an eleventh in memory of the unrecognized, but not therefore unhonored, dead, and of those whose remains could not be recovered….” [22]

The layout of the cemetery, and the manner in which the dead were buried was also significant when one considers the messages of both Everett and Lincoln that day. “The cemetery at Gettysburg was arranged so that every grave was of equal importance; William Saunders’s design, like Lincoln’s speech, affirmed that every dead soldier mattered equally regardless of rank or station.” [23] In this place “some 3,577 Union soldiers (half of them unknown) from eighteen states are buried.” [24]

The speeches of Everett and Lincoln are deeply connected with Romanticism, the Greek revival and the Transcendentalist movement in the United States. Both were children of the enlightenment, and Everett, a former President of Harvard was well versed in these subjects and Lincoln, though a politician who appealed to the tenets of the Enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Lincoln appealed to the “sacred principles of the laws of nature,” and hailed “the constitution and laws” as “hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.” For Lincoln, the war was a test of the practical worth of liberalism.” [25]

Everett had been a mentor to some of the leading Transcendentalist thinkers of his era including Ralph Waldo Emmerson who found that the experience of “Everett’s classroom gave him an entirely new direction in life. He wrote:

“Germany had created [literary] criticism in vain for us until 1820, when Edward Everett returned from his five years in Europe, and brought to Cambridge his rich results, which no one was so fitted by natural grace and splendor of his rhetoric to introduce and recommend….The novelty of the learning lost northing in the skill and genius of its interpreter, and the rudest undergraduate found a new morning opening to him in the lecture room at Harvard.” [26]

Everett, who had previously dedicated battlefields at Bunker Hill, as well as Lexington and Concord, was at his best when dedicating battlefields and cemeteries. He spent weeks preparing his speech. Everett had studied the battle and knew it well from official reports and talks with those who fought it. Everett painted a vivid picture of the battle for his audience and connected the sacrifice of those who fought and died to preserve the Union form antiquity and from those who founded the nation. He noted why they had gathered:

“We have assembled, friends, fellow-citizens, at the invitation of the Executive of the great central State of Pennsylvania, seconded by the Governors of seventeen other loyal States of the Union, to pay the last tribute of respect to the brave men who, in the hard-fought battles of the first, second, and third days of July last, laid down their lives for the country on these hillsides and the plains before us, and whose remains have been gathered into the cemetery which we consecrate this day. As my eye ranges over the fields whose sods were so lately moistened by the blood of gallant and loyal men, I feel, as never before, how truly it was said of old that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country. I feel, as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice their lives, that their fellow-men may live in safety and in honor. And if this tribute were ever due, to whom could it be more justly paid than to those whose last resting-place we this day commend to the blessing of Heaven and of men?” [27]

In his narrative Everett aspired to more than mere accuracy. Along “with Bancroft and other romantic historians of his time, he meant to create a tradition that would inspire as well as inform. Like the Attic orators- and dramatists- he knew the power of symbols to create a people’s political identity.” [28]

Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and philosophical depth of the address are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940. Likewise it echoes the Transcendentalist understanding of the Declaration of Independence as a “test for all other things.”

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Many in the United States and Europe did not agree and argued that no nation found on such principles could long survive. The more reactionary European subscribers of Romanticism ridiculed the “idea that a nation could be founded on a proposition….and they were not reluctant to point to the Civil War as proof that attempting to build a government around something as bloodless and logical as a proposition was futile.” [29]

But Lincoln disagreed. He believed that the “sacrifices of Gettysburg, Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chancellorsville, and a hundred other places demonstrated otherwise, that men would die rather than to lose hold of that proposition. Reflecting on that dedication, the living should themselves experience a new birth of freedom, a determination- and he drove his point home with a deliberate evocation of the great Whig orator Daniel Webster- “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” [30]

The Unitarian pastor and leading Transcendentalist Theodore Parker wrote:

“Our national ideal out-travels our experience, and all experience. We began our national career by setting all history at defiance- for that said, “A republic on a large scale cannot exist.” Our progress since that has shown that we were right in refusing to be limited by the past. The practical ideas of the nation are transcendent, not empirical. Human history could not justify the Declaration of Independence and its large statements of the new idea: the nation went beyond human history and appealed to human nature.” [31]

Likewise Lincoln’s address echoes the thought of George Bancroft who wrote of the Declaration:

“The bill of rights which it promulgates is of rights that are older than human institutions, and spring from the eternal justice…. The heart of Jefferson in writing the Declaration, and of Congress in adopting it, beat for all humanity; the assertion of right was made for the entire world of mankind and all coming generations, without any exceptions whatsoever.” [32]

Parker’s words also prefigured an idea that Lincoln used in his address, that being: The American Revolution, with American history since, is an attempt to prove by experience this transcendental proposition, to organize the transcendental idea of politics. The ideal demands for its organization a democracy- a government of all, for all, and by all…” [33]

Lincoln delivered these words on that November afternoon:

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 cannot 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.[34]

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr. Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.” [35]

Dr. Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.

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The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory. Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those men that volunteered to serve, the war was not about personal gain, loot or land, it was about something greater. It was about freedom, and when we realize this fact “then we can contemplate the real meaning of “that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” [36]

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Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those around the world who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed ground I am again a believer. I believe that we can realize the ideal, even in our lifetime should we desire.

Peace

Padre Steve+

[1] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels, Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.28

[2] Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York 1992 p.25

[3] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.407

[4] Everett, Edward Letter from Edward Everett to Abraham Lincoln, (Transcription) 20 November 1863 retrieved from http://www.in.gov/judiciary/citc/files/everett-to-lincoln.pdf July 18th 2014

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.352

[6] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.758

[8] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.757

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.764

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.513

[11] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.200

[12] Harris, William C. With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY 1997 p.7

[13] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.685

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.685

[15] Ibid. Harris With Charity for All p.7

[16] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[17] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[18] McPherson, James M. This Hallowed Ground Crown Publishers, New York 2003 p.137

[19] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.63

[20] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.64

[21] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.65

[22] Everett, Edward Gettysburg Address retrieved from http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/everett-gettysburg-address-speech-text/ 21 August 2014

[23] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.100

[24] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.137

[25] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening pp.406-407

[26] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.45

[27] Ibid. Everett Gettysburg Address

[28] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.51

[29] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.409

[30] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.408

[31] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.110

[32] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[33] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[34] Lincoln, Abraham The Gettysburg Address the Bliss Copy retrieved from http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

[35] Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Sound Bite: Have Faith in Democracy New York Time Opinionator, November 17th 2013 retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/lincolns-sound-bite-have-faith-in-democracy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 July 18th 2014

[36] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.138

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, Political Commentary

Reembracing the New Birth of Freedom

gburg address

I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I did a week and a half ago. It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed, consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country. When I take my students there I always finish at the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I think about those men of both sides, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause who fought valiantly in the struggle. That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.

Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…” [1]

On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period.

Everett was one of the leading orators of his day. Everett was “a scholar and Ivy-League diplomat who could hold mass audiences in thrall. His voice, diction, and gestures were successfully dramatic, and he always performed his carefully written text, no matter how long, from memory.” [2]

The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, in those words “Lincoln, nevertheless managed to justify the ways of democracy more than anyone, then or now.” [3]

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. 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.” [4]

The speech is short, but its eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. During the fall of 1863 after a series of inconclusive battles in northern Virginia both Lee and Meade’s armies had sent significant numbers of troops to the west, to support operations in eastern Tennessee.

Lee sent Longstreet’s First Corps, which took part in the bloody battle of Chickamauga, which “is a Cherokee word meaning “river of death.” [5] where on September 19th and 20th the Federal Army of the Cumberland under General Rosecrans “were soundly whipped at …and driven back into the strategic point of Chattanooga.” [6] The number of casualties on both sides, over 16,000 Federal and 18,000 Confederate, a “combined total of 34,634 was exceeded only the three day slaughter at Gettysburg and by the week-long series of five battles known collectively as the Seven Days.” [7] Despite the number of casualties it was one of the biggest Confederate victories of the war. A clerk in Richmond wrote “The whole South will be filled again with patriotic fervor, and in the North there will be a corresponding depression.” [8] That changed rapidly when the Union reacted quickly and reversed the strategic situation. One action taken was to deploy Oliver Howard’s XI Corps and Henry Slocum’s XII Corps west, where “they would be commanded by Joe hooker, who was conveniently at hand and unemployed.” [9]

In the east during the following weeks “Lee and Meade, like two wounded, spent gladiators, sparred listlessly along the Rapidan. It seemed to Northerners that the fruits of Gettysburg had been thrown away.” [10] Lee sensed an opportunity to go back on the offensive against Meade’s weakened army, but his offensive was stopped on October 14th when “the Union Second Corps shattered a reckless attack by A.P. Hill’s corps at Bristoe Station, five miles south of Manassas.[11]

There was a faction in the North, the Copperheads, who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even allowing for Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. The efforts of the Copperheads to gain governorships in Ohio and Pennsylvania met defeat in November 1863, although their efforts would persist through the 1864 Presidential election.

However, the anti-abolitionist and racist views espoused by the northern Democrat Copperheads had begun to lose their potency in the North after July of 1863 with the onset of “the New York draft riot, which shocked many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of virulent racism” [12] and the sacrifice of the African American 54th Massachusetts Infantry when it assaulted Fort Wagoner outside of Charleston South Carolina, which occurred “just after the Democratic rioters in New York had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum. Few Republican newspapers failed to point the moral: black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [13]

The speeches of Everett and Lincoln are deeply connected with Romanticism, the Greek revival and the Transcendentalist movement in the United States. Both were children of the enlightenment, and Everett, a former President of Harvard was well versed in these subjects and Lincoln, though a politician who appealed to the tenets of the Enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Lincoln appealed to the “sacred principles of the laws of nature,” and hailed “the constitution and laws” as “hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.” For Lincoln, the war was a test of the practical worth of liberalism.” [14]

Everett had been a mentor to some of the leading Transcendentalist thinkers of his era including Ralph Waldo Emmerson who found that the experience of “Everett’s classroom gave him an entirely new direction in life. He wrote:

“Germany had created [literary] criticism in vain for us until 1820, when Edward Everett returned from his five years in Europe, and brought to Cambridge his rich results, which no one was so fitted by natural grace and splendor of his rhetoric to introduce and recommend….The novelty of the learning lost northing in the skill and genius of its interpreter, and the rudest undergraduate found a new morning opening to him in the lecture room at Harvard.” [15]

Everett, who had previously dedicated battlefields at Bunker Hill, as well as Lexington and Concord, was at his best when dedicating battlefields and cemeteries. He spent weeks preparing his speech. Everett had studied the battle and knew it well from official reports and talks with those who fought it. Everett painted a vivid picture of the battle for his audience and connected the sacrifice of those who fought and died to preserve the Union form antiquity and from those who founded the nation. In his narrative Everett aspired to more than mere accuracy. Along “with Bancroft and other romantic historians of his time, he meant to create a tradition that would inspire as well as inform. Like the Attic orators- and dramatists- he knew the power of symbols to create a people’s political identity.” [16]

Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and philosophical depth of the address are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940. Likewise it echoes the Transcendentalist understanding of the Declaration of Independence as a “test for all other things.” Many in the United States and Europe did not agree and argued that no nation found on such principles could long survive. But Lincoln disagreed. He believed that the “sacrifices of Gettysburg, Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chancellorsville, and a hundred other places demonstrated otherwise, that men would die rather than to lose hold of that proposition. Reflecting on that dedication, the living should themselves experience a new birth of freedom, a determination….”that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.[17]

The Unitarian pastor and leading Transcendentalist Theodore Parker wrote:

“Our national ideal out-travels our experience, and all experience. We began our national career by setting all history at defiance- for that said, “A republic on a large scale cannot exist.” Our progress since that has shown that we were right in refusing to be limited by the past. The practical ideas of the nation are transcendent, not empirical. Human history could not justify the Declaration of Independence and its large statements of the new idea: the nation went beyond human history and appealed to human nature.” [18]

Likewise Lincoln’s address echoes the thought of George Bancroft who wrote of the Declaration:

“The bill of rights which it promulgates is of rights that are older than human institutions, and spring from the eternal justice…. The heart of Jefferson in writing the Declaration, and of Congress in adopting it, beat for all humanity; the assertion of right was made for the entire world of mankind and all coming generations, without any exceptions whatsoever.” [19]

Parker’s words also prefigured an idea that Lincoln used in his address, that being: The American Revolution, with American history since, is an attempt to prove by experience this transcendental proposition, to organize the transcendental idea of politics. The ideal demands for its organization a democracy- a government of all, for all, and by all…” [20]

Lincoln delivered these words on that November afternoon:

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 cannot 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.[21]

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr. Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.” [22]

Dr. Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.

The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory. Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those men that volunteered to serve, the war was not about personal gain, loot or land, it was about something greater. It was about freedom.

Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those around the world who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed ground I am again a believer. I believe that we can realize the ideal, even in our lifetime should we desire.

[1] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels, Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.28

[2] Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York 1992 p.25

[3] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.407

[4] Everett, Edward Letter from Edward Everett to Abraham Lincoln, (Transcription) 20 November 1863 retrieved from http://www.in.gov/judiciary/citc/files/everett-to-lincoln.pdf July 18th 2014

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.352

[6] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.758

[8] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.757

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.764

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.513

[11] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.200

[12] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.686

[13] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[14] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening pp.406-407

[15] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.45

[16] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.51

[17] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.408

[18] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.110

[19] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[20] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[21] Lincoln, Abraham The Gettysburg Address the Bliss Copy retrieved from http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

[22] Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Sound Bite: Have Faith in Democracy New York Time Opinionator, November 17th 2013 retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/lincolns-sound-bite-have-faith-in-democracy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 July 18th 2014

 

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Remembering Gettysburg and the New Birth of Freedom

reynoldsmemorial

I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I did this weekend.  It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

I left on Friday with students from our Staff College and returned home this evening. It was my first time leading a Staff Ride like this though I have participated in them at other battlefields and led less extensive visits to Gettysburg when I was stationed at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania in 1997-1998. I have a good group of students, Army, Navy and Air Force Officers of much experience. In addition to simply examining the battlefield and telling the story of the battle, I have been working over the past two months to build a foundation that enables them to learn the enduring and timeless lessons of leadership, command, control, communication, the linkage between national strategy objectives, the operational art, operational objectives and tactical objectives.  Unlike other visits I added a final stop at the Gettysburg Soldiers’ Cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

irishbrigadememorial

The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed. They were consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country.

I think about those men of both sides and how they came to serve. In 1863 the majority of those who fought were volunteers. Some were motivated by their convictions, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause. Other went to war with mixed feelings. Some fought for family, or their homes, or because they felt that they could do no otherwise, and some even fought against the cause that their families or states believed in.

devilsden

But no matter what their reason for going to war they  That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.

highwatermark

Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…”

joshua_l-1._chamberlain_at_little_round_top

On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period. The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. 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.”

gburgaddressmemorial

The speech is short, but it’s eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. There were those in the North, the Copperheads who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even granting Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. Likewise Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and depth are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940.

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times on the 150th anniversary of the Address:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.”

GAFac1

Dr Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.
The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory.

Gettysburg Address

Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those that volunteered it was not about personal gain, loot or land,it was about something greater. It was about freedom.
Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed  ground I am again a believer that we can realize the ideal.

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.

In the hope that we again realize those ideals and help bring about “a new birth of freedom,” I wish you a good night.
Peace

Padre Steve+

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