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'Government of the people, by the people and for the people'—SILLY REMARKS of the president

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John W. Eyster
November 18, 2013

What a shock to learn from an Associated Press article last week that The Harrisburg Patriot & Union reported in 1863 on President Abraham Lincoln's “Gettysburg Address,” “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.”

I had to memorize those “silly remarks” as a Junior High School student. Did YOU have to memorize those “silly words” too?

Tomorrow we observe the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's “GETTYSBURG ADDRESS” at the Dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA where UNION soldiers from the Battle of Gettysburg which took place July 1 – 2 – 3, 1863 with causalities exceeding 55,000 AMERICANS – yes, AMERICANS ALL – Union and Confederate troops. If you want to review that very significant battle during our civil war, I suggest Wikipedia's very detailed feature article, “Battle of Gettysburg.”

YOU may want to read the whole Associated Press story released last week on November 14 which has been published in newspapers throughout the nation, “150 years later, Pennsylvania newspaper apologizes for panning Gettysburg Address.”

I encourage you to read the whole report. I was interested to learn that during the civil war, the Harrisburg Patriot & Union was a Democratic newspaper that was staunchly opposed to Lincoln.

This report was reprinted all over the US since the successor of the Harrisburg Patriot & Union, the Patriot-News of Harrisburg published a retraction which echoes Lincoln's now-familiar language, said the newspaper's November 1863 coverage was wrong when it described the speech as “silly remarks” that deserved a “veil of oblivion.” So, finally, after 150 years, the newspaper now says it regrets the error of not seeing its “momentous importance, timeless eloquence and lasting significance.”

As we prepare to observe the 150th anniversary of THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS tomorrow, we reflect on the public address which many commentators have asserted clarified the purpose of and motivated support of the civil war. Furthermore, many of us attest that the address has inspired us as American citizens. I am one of those citizens. Are you?

When I took the first WASHINGTON SEMINAR on field study in 1973, we started our week of field study at THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL where I reminded the students of the significant resolutions which President Lincoln articulated to the Americans gathered to dedicate the National Cemetery in Gettysburg. I asserted my conviction that those resolutions echo to us – WE THE PEOPLE of the US – NOW… 1973 and now today, 2013. I was with the WASHINGTON SEMINAR field study groups through 2002 – 30 years. Since 2001, my successor, JOE VAN ROOY has been leading the WASHINGTON SEMINAR field study groups. He continues the tradition of using THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS for the opening of the seminar field study. 2014 will be the 42nd annual WASHINGTON SEMINAR field study.

And now, since 2010, my former Seminar student, VAL CROFTS, the AP US Government & Politics teacher at Milton High School, has been taking students on a field study to Washington with the same goals as WASHINGTON SEMINAR. He titled his field study, “Discovering Democracy.” The Discovering Democracy field study in 2014 will be the 5th annual. Val has integrated THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS resolutions into the opening of “Discovering Democracy.”

Having memorized “The Gettysburg Address” in Junior High School, I can still cite the whole Gettysburg Address from memory today. I will do that in my “American Government & Politics” class at UW-Whitewater tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday, 11/19) to emphasize for my students the significance of THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS and its MEANINGFUL FOR US TODAY (2013).

You may want to review the history of THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS as part of your observance of this 150th anniversary. I read the Wikipedia article, “Gettysburg Address” with helpful reminders for me.

Reading the Wikipedia article, I was happy to see the picture of President Lincoln taken at the Dedication on November 19, 1863. I also noted the ongoing research as to the actual location of the place where the speakers stood has been researched extensively. The article reports, “Modern scholarship locates the speakers' platform 40 yards (or more) away from the Traditional Site within Soldiers' National Cemetery at the Soldiers' National Monument and entirely within private, adjacent Evergreen Cemetery.” You are likely aware that there are five different manuscripts of THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. Each of the manuscripts is published in the Wikipedia article and analyzed.

As YOU read the resolutions which President Lincoln challenged to his audience. I believe the challenge to make those RESOLUTIONS are echoing to us with SIGNIFICANT RELEVANCE & CHALLENGE to us today (November 19, 2013) the 150th anniversary of “The Gettysburg Address.”

Read and cogitate and reflect on Lincoln's challenges to resolutions in his Gettysburg Address:

“that we here highly resolve

(1) that these dead shall not have died in vain;

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

(3) that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Will YOU resolve that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall NOT perish from the earth? YOU may want to re-read the closing phase of the Gettysburg Address and read aloud taking into consideration the assertion by one scholar discussing Lincoln's delivery of The Gettysburg Address that Lincoln emphasized the word, “PEOPLE.” The emphasis was, “…government of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE.” I think this reflects Lincoln's conviction of the significance of the Preamble of our US Constitution with its opening, “WE THE PEOPLE…”


John W. Eyster lives in the Edgerton area. He is an adjunct professor of political science at UW-Whitewater and an advocate for Project Citizen, a model curriculum for democracy/civics education in Wisconsin high schools. John is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. His opinion is not necessarily that of the The Gazette staff or management.


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