Gary Larson, author of “The Far Side” comic strip, drew this cartoon of what really happened when Lincoln spoke.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in American history. Here are my random thoughts on it:
You may have heard how a newspaper in Harrisburg, PA apologized for panning the speech in 1863. Apology accepted, but what took you so long? It would have made more sense if the newspaper said it on the centennial, in 1963. However, I have also learned that when great historical events happen, the eyewitnesses often do not realize it. Apparently the newspaper’s first response is an example of that.
It is not true that Lincoln composed the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope, while riding on the train to Gettysburg. Over a two-week period he made at least five versions of the speech; if he did any writing on the train, it was another revision, not the original draft. Click here for a funny presentation showing how Lincoln would have used PowerPoint, had it been available.
My family had a hand in the Gettysburg Address. What a lot of people don’t know is that Lincoln did not speak alone; he was preceded by a former Secretary of State, Edward Everett. And what an opening act he was! A large part of the audience came to hear him, not the president. He had been a vice presidential candidate in the 1860 election, and had a reputation for being the greatest orator at the time; in other words, he was seen as another Pericles or Cicero. Everett spoke for two hours that day, and those who heard the speech said he delivered as promised, moving many to tears. Unfortunately Lincoln’s three-minute speech was the only one recorded; whatever Everett said so eloquently was forgotten. In the 1990s, Rush Limbaugh made fun of Everett with a sound bite about the speech, which he called one of the “Great Moments in Moderate History.”
I am mentioning this because Everett was a direct ancestor of mine, five or six generations before my mother. For what it’s worth, Everett briefly appeared on the fifty-dollar bill; $50 silver certificates bearing his portrait were printed in 1890 and 1891. They are still legal tender, but worth more than $3,000 today.
Picture source: http://www.frbsf.org/currency/metal/silvercerts/622.html.