Today marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's famous speech at the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle at Gettysburg, which began July 2nd and ended on July 4th, 1863, was the bloodiest battle of the war, with the most casualties of any battle. Over 56,000 men died that day. Some believe it was the turning point in the war. Lee's defeat at Gettysburg was major and the beginning of the end for the Confederate army.
On November 19, 1863, President Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to commemorate the battle. He was asked to say a few words - words that he himself thought would be insignificant. Those words still resonate today and are believed by many to be his best speech ever.
I memorized the Gettysburg Address in 5th or 6th grade history class and still remember most of it to this day. Lincoln's words were simple yet profound, although some disagreed at the time. The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Patriot-News dismissed one of the the greatest Presidential speeches in history as “silly remarks…altogether ordinary… unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity." Apparently the editor didn't care much for President Lincoln's remarks. (They issued a retraction of that editorial today to commemorate the 150th anniversary of that "silly" speech. Better late than never.)
Controversy has arisen over the fact that President Obama is not going to Gettysburg to also commemorate the day. In a move that seems contrary to what he should do, the President who likened himself to Lincoln during his initial Presidential campaign, is sending little known Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who was appointed to her position just this year. Many in Pennsylvania are upset that President Obama is not going to Gettysburg today.
"It would be an occasion for him to honor a crucial time in our past, to create a historical bridge to today," writes Salena Zito, a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer. "His dismissal of the request shows a man so detached from the duty of history, from the men who served in the White House before him, that it is unspeakable in its audacity," Zito added. "Ask almost any person in this historic town; even his most ardent supporters here are stunned."
But others believe Obama's non-appearance is proper so the festivities and remembrance will be about Lincoln's speech rather than about President Obama. Heather Cox Richardson, professor of history at Boston College, says President Obama is doing the right thing by not going.
"The Gettysburg Address," she said, "is a re-dedication of the idea of equality that was seized upon in the Declaration of Independence a century earlier. And now, with the country mired in sharp political divisiveness."
"By not going, President Obama lets that speech stand on its own. If he went, it would all be about him," she said.
"The themes of the Gettysburg Address are what we really need to focus on," she added. "And in an ironic twist, our first black President can't be present for them."
Of course, when asked by reporters why the President wasn't going to Gettysburg, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney didn't have an answer.
"I think that is an enormously significant event in our history, and I think Americans will take the appropriate time to consider it, consider the speech that was delivered there," he said. "But beyond that, I don't have any updates on the President's schedule." Figures, Jay.
I'm somewhat at odds over this one. After all his comparisons of himself to Lincoln - announcing his campaign intentions in Springfield, Illinois, taking his first oath of office on the Lincoln Bible, and traveling to Washington following his election following Lincoln's historic route, President Obama is skipping out on the commemoration of Lincoln's greatest speech? It does seem a little odd. I guess he could be doing it to avoid drawing attention to himself and thus detracting from the importance of the day. But I don't believe that. President Obama is not normally the type to avoid drawing attention to himself. I think it's more that he is detached and finds an appearance at this particular event uninteresting because it's not about him. I could be wrong but when narcissism runs through your veins you don't avoid attention.
Either way - today is a very important day in our history and should be about those famous words of Abraham Lincoln following that horrific battle. Let us all remember them now...
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.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
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. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. 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. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—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—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.