Seven score and four years ago…

Today is the anniversary of the delivery of the Gettysburg Address, which, even if the content weren’t gloriously beautiful, would deserve eternal recognition as an exemplary reminder to speech makers of the virtues of brevity.

You should at least read it today.


  1. Lana says

    Wow. I hadn’t read this in a long time, thanks for the reminder. Boy, I wish today’s politicians would write like that. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve yelled at the newspaper or the radio ” simple declarative sentences – that’s all I want!”

  2. says

    I know this isn’t the way you meant this post, but for me, rereading the Address only invites comparison with the current war and the current President.

    Lincoln: “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

    Bush: “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

  3. Rieux says

    Hear, hear. What a stirring speech.

    A Poli Sci professor I had in college argued that the Gettysburg Address marked, in a sense, the (re)founding of the United States–because it enshrined the notion of the U.S. as “a (new) nation,” even though the Declaration of Independence (which Lincoln was referencing) had never referred to the U.S. as a nation.

    But the older drafts PZ links to here also have a hint of the tragic to them: these drafts make clear that “under God” was a late addition to the speech, almost certainly thrown in (by a president who was fairly skeptical for most of his life) as an afterthought to appease the same religion lobby that we’re beset with today.

    And I’ve always thought that the 1954 decision to add “under God” (after “one nation”!) to the Pledge of Allegiance was grounded in the use of that (afterthought) phrase in Gettysburg. For shame.

    Still, November 19, 1863 was a good day for humanity–as was February 12, 1809, the birthdate of the Addresser as well as some other guy who gets mentioned on this blog occasionally.

  4. Jim Harrison says

    If you haven’t encountered it, may I recommend Garry Will’s book Lincoln at Gettysburg? The book puts the great speech in context as a foundational document of the American nation.

  5. TritoneSub says

    Have you read Gary Wills’ “Lincoln at Gettysburg”? He asserts that Lincoln re-founded the country with that speech. Soon came the 14th amendment(due processEQUAL PROTECTION!) which many in the south are still grousing about.

  6. TritoneSub says

    I often wonder if McClellan had been as good a battle field general as he was in camp, if he had been agressive at Antietam if the carnage at Gettysburg could have been avoided. And if that did happen and there were no Gettysburg Address, what would that portend for our nation.
    I think this illustrates the power of words.

  7. Stephen Wells says

    I’m not even American and the Gettysburg address still brings tears to my eyes. Something about the cadence in “… from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…”

  8. Carlie says

    What’s more frightening is that a lot of people know what “fourscore” means, having learned that in history class, but can’t then figure out how much one score is.

  9. Nix says

    Oh yes, it’s an awesome piece of writing. Comparing that sort of thing to the sound-bite-focused output of modern political speechwriters (let alone to the stuff Bush speaks) is decidedly depressing.

    (At least the UK still has some damn good orators in the Commons, but they rarely get their speeches in the papers because they’re not soundbitey enough. Robin Cook’s excellent resignation speech was the last I can think of, which was probably picked up by the press mainly because he took the opportunity to lay into the government on the Iraq issue.)

  10. Bruce says

    Do we like the Gettysburg address because it is well written, or because we are addicted to sound-bites and it is the sound-bite that history has passed down to us.
    Without having read Edward Everett’s speech, I can’t be sure it was just mere flattery when he wrote

    “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

  11. says

    What was the music that Sagan and friends put on that disk on Voyager? Maybe a copy of the Gettysburg Address should have been on there, too.

    Wills makes a powerful case, but subtley, by piling on the evidence and carefully constructing the case. It’s almost universally accepted today in history texts and poli sci courses.

    And as for Lincoln’s adding “under God,” we should perhaps reflect that one of his vexing tasks was keeping at bay the Jesus Amendment movement, which was then very much alive. The movement included Supreme Court justices in its leadership then. One sop thrown to them was to put “in God we Trust” on a coin; that wasn’t enough. Their argument was that God was taking retribution on the nation for failing to mention God or Jesus explicitly in the Constitution. They claimed that the Civil War was a God-caused fight, for that reason, and that only atonement including explicit recognition of the U.S. as a Christian nation could save the Union. Lincoln resisted such arguments, but by frequently questioning in a deeper way how a merciful God could inflict such a conflict on so many innocents. Lincoln had a deeper understanding of the theology of the Bible than did many of among the Jesus Amendment movement.

    I’ve always thought Lincoln made the case that our secular nation, in its secularness, was the God-gifted creation the Jesus Amendment people really wanted. What he was saying was that we had the power to make the peace, and that a superficial appeal to God could not make the peace nor heal the wounds of the war or the causes of the war.

    Look at the next clause: ” . . . government of the people, by the people, and for the people, should not perish from the Earth.” He doesn’t change the thrust of the Declaration, that “just governments derive their power from the consent of the governed,” but instead makes it more explicit. The “nation under God” is the one that has government, a just government, deriving its power from the consent of the governed, not from any revelation from the supernatural: Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. No God or Bible mentioned there.

    And read it the way Sam Waterson does in the Ken Burns documentary, with emphasis in each phrase on “the PEOPLE!” You may convince yourself.

    (Thanks for the plug, P.Z.)

  12. Aris says

    Great speech, but… Lincoln made a terrible mistake getting the South back into the union. All the problems we’re facing in this country stem from having so many bible-belt yahoos dragging us down into the middle ages. America would be so much more liberal and enlightened if we didn’t have the South controlling our politics and culture.

  13. says

    Speaking of Lincoln and the Address and music, folks might want to give Aaron Coplands “Lincoln Portrait” a listen. A stirring way to hear the words.

  14. Rieux says

    Ed (#15):

    [Lincoln] doesn’t change the thrust of the Declaration, that “just governments derive their power from the consent of the governed,” but instead makes it more explicit. The “nation under God” is the one that has government, a just government, deriving its power from the consent of the governed, not from any revelation from the supernatural: Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. No God or Bible mentioned there.

    Indeed not–but surely that point would have been all the more effective if “under God” hadn’t been in there in the first place.

    The Jesus Amendment issue is news to me, and I understand the realpolitik approach you see Lincoln taking–but then, again, that’s tragic. I guess it makes Lincoln into one of those Neville Chamberlain fundy-appeasers. :-)

    And, of course, given that inch the Christian Right has taken a mile, using that mention of “God” (and the Pledge one, and the money one, and so on) to “prove” that there’s been an implicit Jesus Amendment all along.

    And read it the way Sam Waterson does in the Ken Burns documentary, with emphasis in each phrase on “the PEOPLE!”

    Oh, that is the way I read it. I’ve got “The Civil War” on DVD, I’ve watched it repeatedly, Sam brings me to tears every time, and I think that sequence (backed by the famous violin/guitar piece “Ashokan Farewell” in the soundtrack) is Burns’ best work.

    But it, like so much else in the world, would be better if it didn’t have to bear the baggage of silly superstition. That’s all.

  15. darwinfish says

    “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here”


  16. Mark P says

    “All the problems we’re facing in this country stem from having so many bible-belt yahoos dragging …”

    George W. Bush is a yahoo, but not a bible-belt yahoo. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut. He is probably as big a bigot as others I could name.

  17. says

    Why, yea-uh, Aris, we-uns down heah is runnin’ the whole dadgummed country. Buncha dummasses and hillbillies is all we are.

    Looks like there’s no monopoly on sterotyping.

  18. shiftlessbum says

    Mark P. wrote “George W. Bush is a yahoo, but not a bible-belt yahoo. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut. He is probably as big a bigot as others I could name.”

    He was born in CT, but he was raised in Texas. ’nuff said.

  19. says

    “He was born in CT, but he was raised in Texas. ’nuff said.”

    No, not ’nuff said. He was raised by a Connecticut Yankee and a New York Yankee. Unless you’re saying that the air in Texas makes you stupid, that kind of disproves your point. Stupidity is not limited to the South.

  20. shiftlessbum says


    There is no doubt that the south has no monopoly on stupid. But it does have a heavy infestation of religion, I’m sure you’d agree. And Texas has a nasty form of the infection (coupled as it is with the comorbid pathologies of gun-nuttery and oil). So despite having Eastern WASPish parents, the Shrub could not have grown up with no influence from everyone else who was part of his early life and who were also infected. It is no coincidence that he is what he is.

  21. shiftlessbum says

    Hey, I’m in Seattle. We have more than our fair share of stupid including IDiot Central, Woo-U(Bastyr Institute) and Dale Chihuly. Stupid is everywhere.

    BUT GW Bush wouldn’t be GW Bush if didn’t grow up in Texas.

  22. Mark P says

    Bush would be every bit as much a yahoo if he had not been raised in Texas. What he wouldn’t be is a pretend cowboy. He might still have been a pretend National Guard pilot.

  23. Jake Boyman says

    Unless you’re saying that the air in Texas makes you stupid

    Maybe it does. Texas gave GWB his crucial start in politics, enthusiastically voted for him for president twice, and would no doubt do it a third time if they had the chance.

  24. Mark P says

    And many other states went enthusiastically for Bush in both elections? Lots of southern states. Lots of midwestern states. Lots of western states. An even better question, is how many counties voted for Bush in 2004. Check out the map here:

    If you assume all those who voted for him are yahoos, then I think you have to extend the yahooism out of the south. Way out of the south.

  25. dogmeatib says

    The amazing thing is, at the time Lincoln was slammed for the fact that his speech was so brief. It was felt by many contemporary critics that he didn’t do justice to the occasion or to the men who had fallen throughout the war.

    Burns’ The Civil War actually annoys me, while I am a history nerd who owns a copy, it still annoys me. If you left it up to Burns, no one west of Ohio ever heard of the Civil War. The guy actually manages to leave the Iron Brigade out of his program, the most decorated unit in the Civil War, Lincoln himself commended the unit, stated at one point that the Union owed its continued existence to the unit, and Burns never mentions it, at all, not even one reference.

    Regarding the “stupid” discussion, stupid is universal, but southern bible thumping stupid is truly “special.”

  26. Aris says

    Of course there are idiots everywhere. And obviously Bush has supporters in all parts of the country. However, the culture in the South remains far more conservative, reactionary, racist and pious than in the blue states. The South also remains poorer than other regions, with lower rates of literacy and academic achievement.

    P.S. I’m speaking statistically and I shouldn’t need to explain that not all southerners are yahoos and many are are far more enlightened than many northerners.

  27. autumn says

    I don’t think that GWB is backwards because of Texas. As has been noted, he is a blue-blooded Yankee, and likely never met a single working-class Texan in his entire childhood and early adult life. I always wonder who his dialect coach was, because that person is responsible for a most wonderful hornswaggle.

    Also, it’s amazing that so many of the old guard of southern “good-ole boys” has so readily accepted someone who is exactly the definition of a rapacious and power-hungry carpet-bagger.

  28. Mark P says

    “However, the culture in the South remains far more conservative, reactionary, racist and pious than in the blue states.”

    That’s begging the question. Of course the south is more conservative than blue states. But there are plenty of states in other regions that are not blue states, and your argument is far less convincing when it comes to those states. Check out the link I gave above. Look at the states and then look at the counties, and then tell me conservatism is stronger in the south.

    There has been plenty of racism in the south and there remains plenty. Are you so sure there is not an equal amount in other parts of the country? Why don’t you ask some blacks in LA or Boston what they think about racism? And remember, racism doesn’t just refer to blacks. I can recall riding through the West years ago and reading comments about Indians on bathroom walls that I never saw about blacks in the south.

    When it comes to calling people “pious” you might look in the mirror before you make that charge again.

  29. says

    Lincoln was a great president for many reasons. One thing I really respect him for was his decision to select his opponent for the position of Vice President. That showed a lot of class, and a desire to lead the entire nation, not just the half that voted for him.

  30. autumn says

    Actually, PZ, Amendment XII was ratified in 1804, and outlines the electoral process as it happens today. The difference is that the Amendment simply states that those votes for president are seperate from those voted for vice-president. It seems to me that the difference between then and now was the ability, or the inclination, to vote seperately for pres. and veep, instead of voting for a ticket. I may be wrong here, but there is no later amendment changing the process outlined in Amendment XII.

  31. bernarda says

    I like the famous statement by Pascal in one of his letters:

    “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

  32. Coel says

    [. . .] these drafts make clear that “under God” was a late addition to the speech

    It is unclear that “under God” was ever in the speech. The words are in neither the “Nicolay” copy, most likely the one Lincoln read from on the day, nor the “Hay” copy, thought to have been written on the day or shortly afterwards, on return to Washington.

    There is a strong argument that the words “under God” were never said by Lincoln, but were inserted by an AP reporter, whose report became the basis for the standard version.

  33. Aris says

    “When it comes to calling people ‘pious’ you might look in the mirror before you make that charge again.”

    You seem a little touchy on this subject. I refer to the South as “pious” because of their intense religiosity. How does that make me “pious”? Not only I’m not religious, but I can’t figure out how you inferred piety from my statements about Southern culture. I suspect you probably wanted to call me “self-righteous” and you got the terms mixed up.

    But let’s dispense with the personal stuff.

    You seem to misunderstand the argument: The majority of American voters voted for Bush, twice. I’m familiar with the county voting maps and their conclusions, and of course there’s racism everywhere, etc. etc. My argument is not that conservatism, or racism, or any other unpleasant -ism is present only in the South and I never suggested that only Southern states voted for Bush. When it comes to elections there are all sorts factors that determine behavior, beyond geographical location.

    My argument is about the dominant Southern culture, the “God, Guns and Guts” mentality. Sure, go to rural NY state and you’ll find plenty of that too. But it’s just not as prevalent throughout the state. You don’t have to be a sociologist to see that there’s a distinct difference between Southern culture and the rest of the country. You can call it stereotyping, but both from history and current affairs (from slavery to the civil rights movement to support for Bush’s authoritarianism) and from my own personal experience, I find the South to be a distinct and unpleasant region.

  34. Mark P says

    I have run into this kind of regional prejudice before. There appears to be no cure for the worst cases.

    By the way, one definition of pious is “making a hypocritical display of virtue.”

  35. TritoneSub says

    I hate stereotypes too. Howzaboutsomedata

    From the 2000 Glenmary survery: “The South’s rate of churches of 15.4 per 10,000 residents was followed by the Mountain West at 14.2, the Midwest at 13.6, the Far West at 7.85 and the Northeast at 7.5.”

    The study also notes that the South despite having the highest concentration of churches, it also has the least variety of religions and denominations.

    While not having a monopoly on stupidity or bigotry or self-righteousness, the South (new and old) certainly has at least its fair share.

    Speaking of Wills, read “The Negro President” by him. There you will find the root of the complaints that the South has a disproportionate influence on the politics and policies of the nation.

  36. Mark P says

    Interesting that you equate the number of churches per 10,000 residents with stupidity, bigotry and self-righteousness. I wonder what else those qualities correlate with. And where are your data for that? I also wonder how you justify that form of prejudice when you presumably eschew other forms of bigotry.

  37. Aris says

    “I have run into this kind of regional prejudice before.”

    Let’s simplify: I’m quite certain that there are many reactionary, homophobic, xenophobic, racist, right-wing, gun-toting, religious fanatics who reside in San Fransisco; and I’m certain there are several secular, tolerant and liberal folks living in, let’s say, Lubbock, Texas.

    Are you really saying that there are no differences between San Fransisco and Lubbock in terms of their political and social culture?

  38. Mark P says

    Here’s my last comment on this subject. One of the few socially acceptable forms of prejudice in the US today is the belief that southerners are racist, stupid, redneck, intolerant and hypocritically religious. I live in the south and I have a lot of friends and relatives here. Now I know that if one of the meets some of those who comment here, they will be judged by the region of their birth, and not by the content of their character. If you found yourself on the receiving end of a similar prejudice, you might resent that, too.

  39. says

    It also correlates with poverty, alcoholism, spousal abuse, and Republicanism.

    I think we have over a dozen churches here in Morris, population 5,000, which puts us well over the Southern average. The more rural you are, the more churchly you get.

  40. dogmeatib says

    Actually Aris, in 2000 the majority of Americans didn’t vote for Bush, they voted for Gore, adding in Nader and you had over 52% of Americans not voting for Bush.

    I think the voting results don’t tell the whole story, you’ll have conservative Republicans in every state, some vote that way for economic reasons, others for religious and social reasons, others due to tradition, etc. What you have to look at today is continued support for Bush. As horrible a job as he’s done, adding 3.5 trillion to the debt, horribly botched conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a never ending war against terror, constitutional violations left and right, economic downturn, hurricane Katrina, the list goes on endlessly, and what do you see?

    Only in the south (and Arizona) do you see approval ratings for Bush above 30%. Continued blind support for one of our top five worst presidents portrays a certain kind of mindset.

  41. TritoneSub says

    Bullshit! Look Mark, I live in Indiana which probably has as many bigots as anywhere else. Both sides of my family are from Arkansas. I have been all over the deep south. And I tell you now, the South has an earned reputation for bigotry. I don’t meet southerners and assume they are bigots and I’m sorry if your feelings are hurt. No wait a second, in this case I’m not sorry. I have taken my family to Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery, and that’s just Bama. We’ve interviewed people who were there in the 60’s. I went to Navy “A” school in Meridian MS and I’ve spoken to the people I am characterizing.

    You can’t just pretend that the last few hundred years of oppression down there haven’t happened just because you or others weren’t a party to it.
    My Mom lives in Carriere MS near Picayune. Go to Picayune and see the official looking sign on the city square that says “Jesus is Lord in Picayune” and tell me again how it is wrong to draw some generalizations. When the CCC nee WCC stops its activities, when the neo-confederates stop having an active role in southern politics, then you can tell me to slow my roll without me offering you a big cup of shut the fuck up.

  42. Aris says

    “The more rural you are, the more churchly you get.”

    Granted, and I think one could made a valid argument that the reason the South is overall more churchly, conservative, etc. is the fact that it is more rural than the North. Indeed, the principal reason the South considered slavery in the 19th century to be an indispensable economic institution may be the fact that it was rural, as opposed to the more industrialized North — I don’t think anyone would argue that the average white resident of the Northern states was far less racist than his Southern counterpart.

    I’m not really arguing over the causes of Southern culture (that would be a far more involved and complex discussion) but only for the fact that it exists and it is has been a destructive influence in this country. The most conservative towns may not even be in the South (I’d nominate many a town in rural PA) but that doesn’t change the fact that Southern conservatism has been pulling the whole country to the right since the Civil War.

    Southern strategy anyone?

  43. Aris says

    “Actually Aris, in 2000 the majority of Americans didn’t vote for Bush, they voted for Gore, adding in Nader and you had over 52% of Americans not voting for Bush.”

    You’re quite right.

  44. TritoneSub says

    A latin abbreviation retort. Gee you win. I can hardly blame you since your entire argument so far seems to be “Nuh uh” and that model of perspicacity “No fair!”.

    . I’m sorry. I am being an ass about this.

    I’ll tell you what though, I’d bet if we both stop bristling at each others comments, we’d find we are in general agreement on most any subject. I grant you that I have, to some degree, a bit of prejudice when it comes to the south. My wife is constantly reminding me that I’m not terribly rational in that regard. I have strong convictions about civil rights and the history of that struggle colors my opinion of the region more than it should. Come, let us forget this disagreement. I apologize.


  45. says

    Yes, yes, some people in the South suck, so your bigotry is justified.

    Also, there are lots of black people smoking crack, Mexicans keep trying to steal my job, and Asians are bad drivers but are good at math.

  46. Mark P says

    I am as aware as anyone of what I (and probably most of you) consider the less desirable qualities of many people in my region. For virtually all of my adult life I have considered my vote a futile gesture, since it’s lost in a sea of what passes for conservatism down here. And I have seen plenty of racism. I have also seen progress so tremendous that it’s hard to believe, and so slow that it has hardly been noticed. My advisor at Georgia Tech once said that integration was the best thing that had ever happened at the school, but who today would realize that? It happened before most of the students were born. And, yes, there is a lot of religious conservatism. That manifests itself as backward attitudes towards some social issues, but also as selfless contributions of time, work and money to help those less fortunate. My brother’s church and several others regularly send work crews to the Gulf Coast to help people rebuild homes that were destroyed by Katrina. They help people that are forgotten, or never even noticed because they don’t live in New Orleans. If these people didn’t do it, no one would.

    So when I see people lumping the entire region into a hopeless morass of poor character, I think it does a disservice to the many, many people who try very hard to change things, and who live decent, everyday lives. There are a lot of reasons to hold a lot of people down here in contempt. And there are a lot of reasons not to. Just like anywhere.

  47. TritoneSub says

    At no point have I asserted that being southern makes you anything. What I am saying is that there is a tradition of racism and religious zealotry that is more entrenched in the south than it is in other regions. The religious fervor might be attributable in some part to the rural character of much of the population but the racism is an artifact of Slavery and the “irrepressible conflict”.

  48. TritoneSub says

    I agree with everything you just said Mark. And let me say there is much to admire in “Southern Culture”. I am not happy in feeling that my visits to family are in “Enemy Territory”. Indiana is an infuriating state to live in politically, but people here are some of the most kind and generous people I’ve ever met. They also did a fair amount of lynching here so I just remind myself to never ever let a racist comment slide. I feel bad for snapping at you noble southrons here. Again, I apologize.

  49. Science Goddess says

    Once, as a child, I was so bad that I was prohibited from going to a party. It was only after I had memorized the Gettysburg Address that I was allowed to go. It took me about 15 minutes, glad it was so short.


  50. says

    For an interesting take on the history behind the people and culture of the South, check out Albion’s Seed by David Hacke Fisher. It makes some telling observations on the socioeconomic backgrounds of the British settlers who variously set up camp in the coastal and plantation areas of the South, the inland/hill country South, the Chesapeake Bay area and New England. The parallels between these groups of settlers and modern regional characteristics are fascinating–from the “genteel” antebellum attitudes of many Southerners (including my own North Carolina family) to the hardscrabble culture of Appalachia and the make-do penny-pinching Yankee nature of New Englanders. The roots of racism and religious bigotry are planted deep in American soil.

    (Said the girl who loves to suggest a book for everything…)

  51. Robert says

    My, my, my, such is the hatred that exists between the various regions of the United States. Just the latest verification of a long line of verifications of the lack of unified consensus in America. I wonder what the probability of breakup of the United States is, by the end of the 21st Century? It is ironic that this post is about the Civil War, wonder what the second one would look like?