Friday Fun: Newspaper Retracts Editorial Published in 1863 Criticizing the Gettysburg Address

Posted: Nov 15, 2013 11:05 AM

Imagine being remembered by posterity as the newspaper that called President Lincoln’s most famous speech, um, “silly”?

Better late than never, right?

One-hundred and fifty years after Abraham Lincoln passionately appealed for the preservation of the union in the Gettysburg Address, the Patriot-News of central Pennsylvania, known back then as the Patriot & Union, is retreating from its stance in 1863 that Abe’s Civil War speech was “silly.”

“In an editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance,” the paper wrote on its editorial page Thursday. “The Patriot-News regrets the error.” …

“We pass over the silly remarks of the president,” the paper wrote five days after the battle. “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.”

History, quite apparently, thought otherwise, and the 1863 quote became something of an urban myth around the paper, John L. Micek, the paper’s opinion page editor, told

“This was something we could not let stand,” he said.

My hunch is that the editorial board in 1863 didn’t blast the president’s speech for its lack of eloquence or purpose; rather, they wrote it off entirely because they were unapologetic partisans who loathed the president and his policies:

But the Patriot & Union, a “Copperhead” newspaper in the 1860s, vigorously supported the Democratic Party and, the newspaper says, was still seething after several top editors were arrested and jailed a year earlier by Union troops for suspicion of sedition.

It’s an amazing fact of history that President Lincoln wasn’t even the keynote speaker that day in Gettysburg. Edward Everett, the celebrated orator and former President of Harvard University, delivered the two-hour keynote address. After he finished, Lincoln took the podium and read aloud what would later be remembered by Americans as “The Gettysburg Address.” The rest is history.

The following day, Everett wrote Lincoln a congratulatory letter: “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." In other words, he recognized almost immediately the significance of Lincoln’s speech.

To their everlasting shame, it seems fair to say, the Patriot & Union did not.

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