Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gettysburg Address at 150

On November 19, 1863, US President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech he thought “the world will little note, nor long remember”. He was wrong.

The video above is from Ken Burns’ “Learn the Address” project:
“To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, documentarian Ken Burns, along with numerous partners, has launched a national effort to encourage everyone in America to video record themselves reading or reciting the speech. The collection of recordings housed on this site will continue to grow as more and more people are inspired by the power of history and take the challenge to LEARN THE ADDRESS.”
This particular video is a mashup of several of the videos made by prominent people—including President Obama and ALL living former US Presidents. It’s kind of fascinating in its own way, but the project site has a lot of videos from the famous and obscure alike.

The Gettysburg Address wasn’t even 300 words long. It took President Lincoln some two minutes to deliver the speech. While it was apparently well-enough received at the time (the crowd may have appreciated its brevity after the 2-hour oration they’d just endured), not everyone thought it was good. Newspapers, for example, divided pretty much along partisan lines (sound familiar?). One Pennsylvania paper, the Patriot & Union of Harrisburg, panned the speech in an editorial a few days later:
“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”
As the 150th anniversary of the speech drew close, the paper recently issued a formal retraction, something that was reported widely. Less well-known, perhaps, is the context of that editorial, that it was in many ways a personal grudge on display.

The Gettysburg Address was the only political speech I ever memorised, partly because it was short, but also because I’ve always had an affinity for Lincoln, as I wrote about on the bicentennial of his birth. So, the speech had personal resonance for me before I understood anything about politics or history.

I’d eventually hear or read political speeches that would speak to me in other ways, appealing to my political beliefs, for example, connecting with my brain, perhaps. In some ways, though, I think it was able to happen because I connected with the Gettysburg Address when I was still too young to understand it or its historic context.

I still like that speech.


rogerogreen said...

Oddly affecting.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Yes, that's it exactly!