Gettysburg Address: 150 years ago today
November 19, 2013 11:30 AM   Subscribe

In a week which also marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, the Gettysburg Address was delivered by Abraham Lincoln, 16th President, 150 years ago today. Mitch Rapoport narrates an animated version.

Several versions of the address exist; others may do as well. The speech delivered by Abraham followed a rather longer, and less well-known, one. Photographic records of the event are rare.

For more on this most analyzed of speeches, previously on MetaFilter. In addition, the Onion has produced a Wordcloud which may not be entirely accurate.
posted by Wordshore (17 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
1. Saw note about 150th anniversary on Google.
2. Did the math.
3. Thought of "Four score and seventy years ago..." joke.
4. Realized everyone else had already thought of it.
5. Sigh.
posted by straight at 12:00 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here..."

Lincoln was certainly wrong about that, but I never really believed he believed that. Abe was a politician as rude and as saavy as they come and the self-deprecation of that line was all part of the act.
posted by three blind mice at 12:08 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I heard the speech read aloud on NPR this morning and I'm not ashamed to say that the closing line, "...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." brought me to tears.
posted by workerant at 12:16 PM on November 19, 2013 [9 favorites]

50 years ago, I was a Boy Scout in central Pennsylvania, and we attended something at the battlefield/cemetery as a troop. I had always remembered it as the anniversary of the address, but the only celebration I found today for the 19th was Eisenhower's speech. It seems unlikely that we got off school on a Tuesday, and I don't remember seeing Ike. Maybe it was the weekend before. Definitely not the weekend after.
Maybe we were there on the anniversary of the battle, but I remember it as autumn.

On the other hand, I loved the Electric Map.
posted by MtDewd at 12:17 PM on November 19, 2013

Score Score and negative twelve-score minus ten.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:35 PM on November 19, 2013

Like workerant, I am continually moved by the Gettysburg Address and have the greatest respect for it.

But I also think that Onion word cloud is a riot.

I contain multitudes.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:42 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Abe was a politician as rude and as saavy as they come and the self-deprecation of that line was all part of the act.

Why not take it one step farther, and say he was glad all those soldiers died because it gave him a prime opportunity to preen?
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:42 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Last week the Patriot and Union paper (now PennLive) formally retracted its 1863 opinion that the Gettysberg Address consisted of "silly remarks".
Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time, called President Lincoln’s words “silly remarks,” deserving “a veil of oblivion,” apparently believing it an indifferent and altogether ordinary message, unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity.
posted by memebake at 12:43 PM on November 19, 2013

Very moving; thank you!

I was curious about the narrator and googled "Mitch Rapenport" with no hits. I went back to the video and found "Mitch Rapoport" credited instead.

If so, then this roundtable might be similarly fascinating.
posted by warm_planet at 1:24 PM on November 19, 2013

Mod note: Fixed the name in the post.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:33 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not ashamed to say that the closing line, "...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." brought me to tears.

The lines:
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.
always get to me.
posted by TedW at 1:37 PM on November 19, 2013

While this is all very interesting, am I alone in feeling uncomfortable with the US's pre-occupation with its history? Ever since 9-11 it feels we have to be constantly reminded look backwards to the greatness of heritage, and the Founding Fathers, Gettysburg etc.

I grew up in Northern Ireland in the sixties and early seventies, where partisanship and sectarianism merged in an unholy union. 'Patriotic' flags, dotted the landscape, as did murals reminding us of King Billy and his victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Unless you chose your company carefully, politics was a minefield in any social interaction. Preoccupation with the past precluded any vision for the future, and living in the US now, I find myself revisiting this baggage. During that period we'd look at the US as an inspiration- West coast Cultural Revolution, the Space Race, and the arts- all apparently forward looking and optimistic on so many levels.

It worries me that the capacity for the US to look ahead, might have been overrun with an unhelpful and parochial fixation with its past.
posted by marvin at 2:02 PM on November 19, 2013

I dunno... if we're going to look to the past it seems like we could do worse than to look to a time when we made the greatest sacrifice of blood and tears in our nation's history in order to grind into dust one of the most evil societies in history, that of the antebellum south.
posted by Justinian at 2:33 PM on November 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

... am I alone in feeling uncomfortable with the US's pre-occupation with its history? Ever since 9-11 ...

I don't know, but I don't think this particular bit of history is being remembered because of 9-11. The Civil War happened just outside the boundaries of modern memory - it's the 150th anniversary of the war - and the last time the war was commemorated like this, the 75th anniversary, there were veterans of Gettysburg from both sides shaking hands. This is not ancient history, and echoes of why we fought still come up today.

I don't think we're fixated with the past. But we have to at least remember it, to avoid making the same mistakes again.

The 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg preceded this by a couple of months. I attended the commemoration of that, and I overheard one guy telling another that the war was fought for "states' rights". So I asked him which rights, other than the one that let you own other people, were at issue, and unsurprisingly he had no answer for me.

When I was younger, I was always somewhat mystified by how we ended up at war anyway, given that most whites in North and South alike didn't care that much for the abolitionist cause, or the slaves. And how many people are willing to fight for an abstract cause like "the Union" anyway? This history has been lost to most of us, I think, and that's dangerous.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:39 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wrote this op-ed for the newspaper I worked at 20 years ago...I'd like to share it:

The next time someone urges you to be practical, stop for a moment to ask yourself whether or not it might be most practical to be an idealist.

Consider the period of our Civil War. Think about Abraham Lincoln, our enigmatic president who is now shrouded in myth.

Lincoln was an idealist. How can this be so? After all, this was a man who was a master politician. He had a gift for seeming to be led by public opinion; at times he seemed to be catering to the radical abolitionists in his party, on other occasions he relied on the Peace Democrats. He played one faction against the other, he balanced an often intractable Cabinet, he prosecuted a war by casting aside generals until he found Grant, who understood the "arithmetic" of a bloody war of attrition, bringing to full advantage the resources and power of the North against a weaker South.

Furthermore, he arrogated powers to himself which were not expressly within the purview of the administrative branch. He violated a strict construction of the Constitution, and alienated Congress, by suspending the right of habeas corpus; he issued the Emancipation Proclamation--presenting what could be considered as perhaps the greatest bill of attainder of all time, and he did it in a way that was fait accompli to both the Constitution and Congress.

Where is the idealism in all that? These seem more like the actions of a despot seeking practical solutions to immediate problems. And while this seems to be a plausible assessment of these actions, such a conclusion could not be further from the truth. Lincoln's behavior was suborned by, and consistent with, his idealism. We can deplore his unlawful acts and yet admire his purpose.

How so? Are not the means supposed to be consistent with the ends? Ought not morality be a matter of practical behavior as much as part of lofty ideals? Yet, in time of war, some laws get left by the wayside. If Lincoln broke laws, and he did, and if Lincoln violated the structure framing those laws--the Constitution, and he did, then how on earth could he lay a claim to idealism? What higher lawfulness could there be that might justify his behavior and satisfy the claim?

The solution to this mystery is contained within his brief masterpiece, the Gettysburg Address. While the battle itself represented a turning point in the Civil War, and is rightly accorded a place in our history because of the heroism of those who fought there, Lincoln's address supplies the meaning. Without meaning, battle is simply slaughter, and while Lincoln is right in asserting that the honor goes to the warriors, it is important, especially now, to understand what could have justified what would otherwise be meaningless barbarity.

The higher lawfulness, and Lincoln's central purpose, was to preserve our vital form of government. Democracy, and more specifically, a democratic Republic, is founded on the principle of majority rule. Union. At all times. Without exception. It was the belief of Lincoln, and of many others, that democracy could only survive if the idea of majority rule were held sacred. A functioning democracy is a special clumsily beautiful way of governance, especially when it embodies elegant ideals such as liberty and equality. Our Civil War, at least from Lincoln's perspective, challenged one of the three fundamental conditions of a functioning democracy.

The first condition of a functioning democracy is its establishment: Government of the people. That is our Revolution in a nutshell. Monarchism is not government of the people, nor is despotism.

The second condition of a functioning democracy is its administration. The constraints imposed by the Constitution, underscored by the principle of majority rule, provides the best hope for administering justice by the people. In this way, liberty and equality become more than ideals, they become practical goals towards which to be striven.

The third condition of a functioning democracy is its maintenance. That is what was challenged by the secessionists during our civil war. Lincoln's view was that this challenge could not go unanswered. The majority rules and the minority cannot exercise recourse to circumvent that decision. Withdrawal, with or without bullets, endangered everything upon which this nation was founded.

In Lincoln's view, maintenance of the functioning democracy was paramount because government for the people transcended his present. Government for the people implies reverence for the past, it holds hope for the future. The mortal cirumstances which prevent one generation from perfectly realizing the ideals of liberty and equality do not limit those ideals in themselves. In fact, with this form of governance, the practical is united with the ideal implicitly; knowing that we are less than perfect now does not mean that our progeny cannot use our lives as lessons to create closer approximations of that perfection which our founders cherished.

Lincoln knew that our form of government, our democratic republic, is the crucible from which we distill our better urges for justice. If we smash the vessel, we destroy hope. If we polish the vessel and do all the practical things which prolong its useful life, then there is still hope that its contents will not sour; better yet, there is still the dream that we yet may pour forth the elixir which gives all humanity its due.

Lincoln was a practical politician. He was also a statesman. Many disagreed with his actions. But his purpose was to preserve the union and the idea of majority rule. He was tenacious because his pragmatism was guided by his unwavering idealism. That the two cannot be easily reconciled is understandable, given the crisis of his time and the flaws of each and every human. Lincoln's call for his fellow citizens to perform the "unfinished work" which many gave their lives for is also a call for us today.

An idea dies when there is no one left to remember it. The ideas which are embedded in the foundation of this nation must be renewed, reaffirmed, fought for if need be. This is because the unfinished work is never finished, and within that work is life, democratic life, itself.
posted by CincyBlues at 4:59 PM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

am I alone in feeling uncomfortable with the US's pre-occupation with its history? Ever since 9-11 it feels we have to be constantly reminded look backwards to the greatness of heritage, and the Founding Fathers, Gettysburg etc.

I have a 1,000-item list of beefs with American society as it stands in 2013, and I can guarantee you that an overabundance of serious interest on the part of Americans in their own history is nowhere on there. I wish to god Americans actually gave a shit about their history.

I mean, I get your point about people fetishizing the founding fathers, but trust me, most of the people doing the fetishizing haven't actually cracked a book to learn about anything that happened before 1980 or so.
posted by COBRA! at 6:01 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I learned everything important there is to know about the Founding Fathers from Bioshock Infinite.
posted by Justinian at 1:46 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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