My Take on the Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln’s third link, pun intended, to Central Pennsylvania, was the Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.

Never mind the South.   The North itself was badly divided over the policies of the Lincoln Administration.  His renomination was far from a lock with competition from William Seward, Salmon Chase, and Horace Greely quite likely.  While these efforts were futile, as late as March of 1864, Lincoln though he would lose the November election to the  Democrats.  Remember in 1860, Lincoln won with only 40% of the popular vote.  Lincoln  basic purpose was to get support for his policies by adding a moral purpose to them

This address has many themes and they ran throughout the speech.

–a commitment to a strong central government.  Power in Washington was to enhance not limit freedom,
–the universal application of democracy around the world; our responsibility to demonstrate how well it works to others,
–the horrors of war and a determination to avoid it in the future,
–the quality of life in America is dependent on our cities,
–the equality of all men at least politically and legally,

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.

THE KEY WORDS ARE “CONCEIVED” AND “PROPOSITION.”   THE CONCEPT THAT MAN CAN BE FREE IS ABSTRACT.   THAT ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL IS A PROPOSITION, RADICAL FOR ITS TIME.  FULLY ACHIEVING THESE GOALS IS IMPOSSIBLE.  NEVERTHELESS, PEOPLE, NATIONS, AND EVEN FOOTBALL TEAMS KNOW WHEN THEY ARE MAKING PROGRESS.  OFTEN THIS COMES EITHER BY JUST THINKING OR BY SUDDEN INSPIRATION.  LINCOLN WANTED TO MAKE CERTAIN WE REMAINED FOCUSED ON THE ULTIMATE AIM OF THE CIVIL WAR-PRESERVATION OF THE UNION. THIS IN NO WAY IMPLIES THAT THE SOUTH WAS TOTALLY WRONG OR DID NOT HAVE LEGITIMATE GRIEVANCES.          

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

WHEN THE FOUNDING FATHERS WROTE THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION,  THEY GLOSSED OVER THE REGIONAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE NORTH AND SOUTH.   THERE FOLLOWED A SERIES OF COMPROMISES. THE MOST IMPORTANT OF THESE CAME FROM THREE LEGISLATIVE GIANTS-HENRY CLAY, DANIEL WEBSTER, AND JOHN C. CALHOUN.  BY THE EARLY 1850S , IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT THE NATION WAS COMING APART.  THREE FACTORS BASICALLY TOLD THE STORY.

–WESTWARD EXPANSION ESPECIALLY CALIFORNIA IN 1850
–THE FOUNDING OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AT RIPON, WISCONSIN
–LINCOLN WINNING THE PRESIDENCY IN 1860

THOUGH LINCOLN WAS AGAINST SLAVERY, HE WAS NOT AN ABOLITIONIST.   HE RECOGNIZED THAT SLAVERY WAS MERELY A CODE WORD FOR THE DIFFERENT ECONOMIC SYSTEMS OF THE NORTH AND SOUTH.  AS I INDICATED, MANY CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYERS CAN ARGUE OF ANY STATE’S OR STATES’ RIGHT TO SECEDE FROM THE UNION.  LINCOLN REALIZED THAT, REGARDLESS  OF WAR ‘S OUTCOME, THE SOUTHERN WAY OF LIFE WAS OVER.  THE CIVIL WAR  JUST ACCELERATED THE PROCESS.  AN EXPANDING POPULATION MEANT MORE URBAN AREAS.  INDUSTRIALIZATION AND IMPROVED AGRICULTURAL METHODS RESULTS IN SMALLER FARMS,  GREATER OUTPUT, AND THE ULTIMATE EXTINCTION OF SLAVERY.  LINCOLN WANTED TO KEEP THE UNION TOGETHER BECAUSE WE WOULD BE STRONGER AS ONE NATION RATHER THAN TWO.  BY SAYING “ANY NATION SO  CONCEIVED AND SO DEDICATED,” LINCOLN KNEW THE UNITED STATES WOULD SERVE AS AN EXAMPLE OF HOW DEMOCRACY CAN WORK TO THE ENTIRE WORLD.  PERMITTING THE SOUTH TO LEAVE WOULD SET A BAD PRECEDENT.   FURTHER SUB-DIVISIONS COULD TAKE PLACE IN BOTH THE NORTH AND SOUTH ANYTIME SHARP DISAGREEMENTS AROSE.  THIS WOULD LEAVE THE FORMER UNITED STATES IN A WEAK, DISORGANIZED, AND  VULNERABLE POSITION.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

GETTYSBURG WAS A LEATHER SOURCE FOR THE CONFEDERACY BUT MORE IMPORTANT WAS STRATEGIC PLACE TO START ASSAULTS ON PHILADELPHIA, BALTIMORE, AND WASHINGTON.   THE UNION IN A  BLOODY THREE DAY BATTLE TURNED BACK THE CONFEDERATES IN EARLY JULY.  THIS WAS THE TURNING POINT OF WAR, THOUGH NOT REALIZED AT THE TIME OF THIS ADDRESS.

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.

BY MAKING THE BATTLE FIELD A CEMETERY,  WE ARE SHOWING  GETTYSBURG AS MORE THAN  STRATEGIC VICTORY.  IT REMINDS US OF THE DEATHS AND HUMAN SUFFERING OF THE SOLDIERS AND THEIR FAMILIES.   THERE IS UNFORTUNATELY STILL SOME ROMANCE ASSOCIATED WITH WAR.  DURING THE BATTLE OF BULL RUN, SOME FAMILIES ACTUALLY CAMPED OUT ON A HILL TO WATCH AS IF IT WAS ENTERTAINMENT.

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.

SOLDIERS IN WAR THINKS ONLY ABOUT SURVIVAL.  ANYTHING ELSE IS IRRELEVANT WHEN YOU LIFE IS ON THE LINE.  NEVERTHELESS,  SUPPOSE WE COULD MEASURE THIS SURVIVAL INSTINCT FROM EACH SOLDIER, BOTH FROM THE UNION AND THE CONFEDERACY.   THE TOTAL IN THIS CASE IS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS.   THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG WAS CRITICAL TO THE SURVIVAL OF THE UNION, OR PUT ANOTHER WAY, THE SOUTHERN WAY OF LIFE.  THE SOLDIERS AS A GROUP CONSECRATED  THIS BATTLEFIELD.  TO NORTH IT WAS THE SURVIVAL OF THE UNION.  TO THE SOUTH THEIR ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL ORDER.  

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

I DO NOT KNOW HOW SINCERE LINCOLN WAS IN THIS SELF EFFACING STATEMENT.  PUBLIC FIGURES ALWAYS EVOKE MEMORIES OF THOSE DEAD TO SUPPORT THE WAR EFFORT.   THIS THOUGH IS A TWO WAY STREET.  THOSE OPPOSING THE WAR DO THE SAME TO SHOW ITS FUTILITY AND WASTE. 

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.

LINCOLN RECORD ON CIVIL LIBERTIES WAS TO SAY THE LEAST LACKING.  HE FELT JUSTIFIED VIOLATING  FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS TO PRESERVE SOME DEGREE OF ORDER, ESPECIALLY IN THIS DOMESTIC INSURRECTION.    HERE WAS AN OPPORTUNITY TO USE THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG TO FOCUS ON PRESERVING THE UNION; TO DISCOURAGE  CRITICISM OF HIS WAR POLICY; AND TO LIFT MORALE.   GETTYSBURG WAS ULTIMATELY THE TURNING POINT OF THE WAR, THOUGH THAT WAS ONLY A GUESS AT THE TIME OF THE SPEECH.  THE PHRASE “SO NOBLY ADVANCED” HAS A DOUBLE MEANING.   THE UNITED STATES HAD, FOR 70 YEARS, COMPROMISED SECTIONAL DIFFERENCES.   BY THE LATE 1850s, IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT OUR DEMOCRACY HAD SERIOUS FLAWS.  THERE IS NOTHING NOBLE ABOUT FIGHTING A WAR DUE TO OUR LEADERS’ SHORTCOMINGS.   NEVERTHELESS, IT WAS A NOBLE UNDERTAKING TO PRESERVE THE UNION ESPECIALLY AT THIS TIME OF WESTWARD EXPANSION.   IT DEPENDS ON THE ANGLE VIEWED.          

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us

THE WISDOM OF THOSE WHOSE MAKING THE PEACE OFTEN DOES NOT MATCH THE COURAGE OF THE THOSE WHO FOUGHT THE WAR.  THE TASKS BEFORE THE UNION  WERE MANY-WINNING  THE WAR;  PROCEEDING AS ONE NATION TO BALANCE BOTH THE FREEDOM OF THE INDIVIDUAL WITH ORDER IN SOCIETY  AND THE POWERS OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WITH THE STATES.  

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 —

THE CIVIL WAR WOULD BECOME EVEN MORE TRAGIC IF THE PEOPLE LEARNED NOTHING FROM IT.  ABRAHAM LINCOLN  HOPED TO MAKE A LASTING PEACE WITHIN OUR COUNTRY;  THAT WE WOULD RESOLVE OUR DIFFERENCES  CONSISTENT WITH OUR DEMOCRATIC IDEALS.   THE UNITED STATES, KNOWING THE HORRORS OF A WAR ON ITS OWN SOIL, WOULD  AVOID ANOTHER.  NOR WAS THIS STRICTLY A SOUTHERN PROBLEM.  IN 1814, THE NEW ENGLAND STATES, MOSTLY FEDERALIST, WANTED TO SECEDE FROM THE UNION.  THEY REFERRED TO THE WAR OF  1812 AS “MR. MADISON’S WAR” AND STOPPED JUST SHORT OF SUPPORTING GREAT BRITAIN.  LINCOLN STATES THAT  IDEAS OR SPECIFIC PROPOSALS SHOULD, AS A BOTTOM LINE, STRENGTHEN OUR UNION.    

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

THE CIVIL WAR WAS A COMPLETE TRAGEDY AND  NOT A TEST TO SEE IF OUR DEMOCRACY COULD SURVIVE.  SOME PEOPLE PICTURE IT ALMOST LIKE A VACCINATION-FIGHTING OUT THESE DIFFERENCES WOULD MAKE OUR COUNTRY STRONGER.   LINCOLN ,  AS I SEE IT, MEANT  FOR OUR PEOPLE TO PUT THE DIVISIONS, DIFFERENCES, AND HATREDS THAT CAUSED THE CIVIL WAR BEHIND US; TO WORK OUT FUTURE DISSENT WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF THE CONSTITUTION;   AND TO RECOGNIZE THAT NEW NATIONAL ORDER THAT EVOLVED AFTER THE WAR.  THIS NEW ORDER REFERRED TO, AMONG OTHER ISSUES,  URBANIZATION,  INDUSTRIALIZATION, WESTWARD EXPANSION, AND THE END OF SLAVERY.             

— and that government of the people,

OF THE PEOPLE MEANS THAT ALL MEN ARE EQUAL POLITICALLY, LEGALITY, AND IN THE OWNERSHIP OF GOVERNMENT PROPERTY.  THIS IS TRUE REGARDLESS OF SOCIAL STATUS OR RESIDENCE.  

 by the people,

A DEMOCRACY  MEANS, OF COURSE, THAT THE VOTERS ELECT  REPRESENTATIVES, IN BOTH THE CONGRESS AND THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH, TO CARRY OUT POLICIES AND PROGRAMS.  THEN AND NOW IT DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE LEADERS SHOULD BLINDLY FOLLOW PUBIC OPINION. THIS IS ONE OF THE BIG PROBLEMS OF DEMOCRACY.  IT EFFECTS BOTH THE MEMBERS OF CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT.

WE ALL KNOW REPRESENTATIVES AND SENATORS OFTEN VOTE TO REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THEIR CONSTITUENTS.  THIS  HOLDS EVEN THOUGH THE POLITICIAN  BELIEVES OTHERWISE OR THE PROPOSAL IS NOT IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. OVER AN EXTENDED PERIOD,  IT COULD EVEN BE DETRIMENTAL TO THEIR CONSTITUENTS.

TO ILLUSTRATE LETS LOOK AT THE SOUTHERN SENATORS BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR AND THE  DURING THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT NEARLY 100 YEARS LATER.

THOUGH LINCOLN WAS A BRILLIANT MAN,  MANY SOUTHERNERS  MUST HAVE ALSO KNOWN THAT REGARDLESS OF THE WAR’S OUTCOME, THEIR WAY OF LIFE WAS OVER.  I DO NOT KNOW HOW MUCH POLITICAL PRESSURE WAS ON SOUTHERN SENATORS TO GO TO WAR RATHER THAN NEGOTIATE DIFFERENCES.

FROM 1946 TO 1968, THERE WERE NUMEROUS CIVIL RIGHTS AND SUPREME COURT DECISIONS OUTLAWING DISCRIMINATION BECAUSE OF RACE, CREED, OR NATIONAL ORIGIN.  MOST OF THIS OF COURSE RELATED TO BLACK AMERICANS.  SOUTHERN DEMOCRATS RESISTED AND FILIBUSTERED AGAINST VIRTUALLY ALL OF THESE MEASURES.  WITH THE EXCEPTION OF SENATOR EASTLAND FROM MISSISSIPPI, I BELIEVE THEY WERE COUNTERING THEIR OWN FEELINGS.  HOWEVER, THEY  SIMPLY KNEW THAT SAYING OR VOTING WITH THEIR CONVICTIONS WOULD INCUR THEIR DISTRICTS’ OR STATE’S WRATH.  DEFEAT ON ELECTION DAY WAS A REAL POSSIBILITY.   MANY OF THESE DEMOCRATS,  SUCH AS JOHN SPARKMAN, LISTER HILL, AND WILLIAM FULLBRIGHT WERE OTHERWISE VERY LIBERAL.           

THE PRESIDENT HAS AN EVEN BIGGER  PROBLEM.   AS YOU KNOW, THE WINNER IN EACH STATE IN A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TAKES ALL OF THAT STATE’S ELECTORAL VOTES REGARDLESS OF THE MARGIN OF VICTORY.  NOMINEES TAILOR  ARGUMENTS TO EACH STATE OFTEN RESULTING IN CLASHING  IDEAS PRESENTED TO DIFFERENT REGIONS.  WHEN RUNNING FOR THE PRESIDENCY, NOMINEES TEND TO LASER IN ON SWING STATES PAYING LITTLE ATTENTION TO STATES THEY ARE VIRTUALLY CERTAIN TO WIN OR LOSE.  ONCE IN OFFICE SUCH TACTICS CONTINUE.  THE PRESIDENT OFTEN  PROPOSES  FUNDS  FOR STATES THAT VOTED FOR HIM.  THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE IN SWING STATES .  OF COURSE, THEY FREQUENTLY  TAKE REVENGE ON THOSE STATES THAT DID NOT.

THERE ARE MANY EXAMPLES BUT 1972 REALLY STANDS OUT.  MASSACHUSETTS WAS THE ONLY STATE TO VOTE FOR SENATOR MCGOVERN OVER PRESIDENT NIXON.  WITHIN DAYS AFTER THE ELECTION, THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT ANNOUNCED THE CLOSURE OF THE BOSTON NAVY YARD.        

THE SOLUTION HERE IS VERY OBVIOUS.  THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE WAS FINE IN LINCOLN’S DAY WHEN VOTE COUNTING WAS VERY DIFFICULT.  ONE VOTE SHOULD MEAN THE SAME THING REGARDLESS OF THE LOCATION.  I DID NOT LIKE OBAMA WRITING OFF TEXAS ANY MORE THAN MCCAIN DOING LIKEWISE WITH RHODE ISLAND.  WE SHOULD ELECT OUR PRESIDENT BY DIRECT POPULAR VOTE.    

for the people,

HERE ONCE AGAIN LINCOLN EMPHASIZED IDEAS AND PROPOSALS SHOULD BENEFIT THE NATION AS A WHOLE.  WHAT IS FOR THE COMMON GOOD IS HIGHLY SUBJECTIVE REQUIRES AND NEEDS EXPLANATION.  MOST LEGISLATION ON THE SURFACE  IS FOR THE BENEFIT OF SPECIFIC GROUPS.  YET ITS SUPPORTERS SHOULD STILL SHOW AT LEAST AN INTENDED  POSITIVE EFFECT ON THE ENTIRE NATION.  

AS AN EXAMPLE, A LAW FOR AID TO HIGHER EDUCATION DIRECTLY BENEFITS COLLEGE STUDENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES.  AT THE SAME TIME, THE ENTIRE COUNTRY  MIGHT BENEFIT THROUGH HAVING BETTER A EDUCATED  ELECTORATE.

LINCOLN HERE IS ASKING EVERYONE TO STEP OUTSIDE OF THEMSELVES, THEIR POLITICAL GROUPS, AND THEIR OWN GEOGRAPHIC AREAS.   THE GOALS TO HIM WAS THAT PEOPLE  WOULD JUDGE IDEAS AND PROPOSALS  BY WHAT IS BEST IN TOTAL FOR THE NATION .  OF COURSE, THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT DISSENT WILL DISAPPEAR.  ALL OF US HAVE DIFFERENT VISIONS OF WHERE WE ARE, THE ULTIMATE GOALS, AND THE MEANS FOR ATTAINING THEM.   NEVERTHELESS, IF WE CAN TRUST EACH OTHERS BASIC GOOD INTENTIONS, THAT IS THE FIRST STEP IN MAKING DEMOCRACY WORK.    VERY IDEALISTIC. 
 
shall not perish from the earth.

THIS IS A VERY DEEP STATEMENT.  LINCOLN CLOSE HIS ADDRESS EXACTLY  AS HE OPENED IT.   HE SAYS THAT DEMOCRACY IN THE UNTIED STATES IS IMPORTANT TO THE ESTABLISHMENT AND OPERATION OF OTHER GOVERNMENTS ACROSS THE GLOBE.  NOTICE HE DID NOT SAY THIS NATION WILL DIVIDE AND CEASE TO EXIST AS WE KNOW IT.   DEMOCRACY WAS ON TRIAL IN THE CIVIL WAR AND IN GRAVE DANGER.  HE COULD HAVE BEEN VIEWING THE COLONIAL EMPIRES IN SOUTH AMERICA,  AFRICA, AND THE FAR EAST.  ONE DAY THEY WILL DEMAND INDEPENDENCE, JUST AS WE DID IN THE 1770s.   ABRAHAM LINCOLN WANTED OUR COUNTRY TO SERVE AS AN EXAMPLE OF FREEDOM TO THE ENTIRE WORLD..  THIS GIVES THE WAR AN EVEN WIDER PURPOSE.

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