Why Did Lincoln Think the Gettysburg Address was a Poor Speech?


(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Joined
Jul 24, 2017
Messages
556
#3
One question I have about the Gettysburg address:

In the film Lincoln two recruits who talk to Lincoln have memorized the speech. Was this historically accurate? Was the speech as respected then as it became later?
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
7,644
Location
Central Massachusetts
#4
I don't think he did. He was just being typically modest and self-deprecating. He never bragged or postured about anything. He knew very well the importance of what he said, and labored hard at perfecting the Gettysburg Address, right up to the time he gave it.

Constant editing is not a sign of uncertainty, but of determination to refine and perfect.
 
Last edited:

TomV71

Corporal
Silver Patron
Joined
Oct 26, 2018
Messages
486
Location
Norway
#8
One question I have about the Gettysburg address:
In the film Lincoln two recruits who talk to Lincoln have memorized the speech. Was this historically accurate? Was the speech as respected then as it became later?
I cant say for sure, but I really doubt that. That scene is typical Hollywood "artistic freedom". If it's historical accurate, I would really like to see a source. I am sure the speech grow more respected in the years following the war and especially in modern times.
 

mobile_96

First Sergeant
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
1,501
Location
Ill.
#9
Was the speech as respected then as it became later?
Good question. our last CW speaker covered the Address, and events surrounding it. His talk was also supposed to cover reactions to it. However, he spent most of his time on the Getts battle, and as to reactions, the only one mentioned was Edward Everett's. Afterwards I asked for the Public reaction to the speech and he had none. So, before he talks to us again in Dec. I's started looking for material on public comments. Found a number of newspaper references in Nevins "War for the Union" that I still have to look up. In Ronald C. White's A. Lincoln there are several, a positive by Josiah Holland, associate editor of the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, Nov. 20, 1863-"surprisingly fine as Mr. Everett's oration was in the Gettysburg consecration, the rhetorical honors of the occasion were won by President Lincoln," "His little speech is a perfect gem, deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma."
And the Chicago Times responded "The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the filly, flat, and dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States."
Thirty-six miles from Gettysburg, the Harrisburg Patriot and Union "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 no more be repeated or thought of."
There is also one from London which I will skip, for now at least.
Hmmm, maybe this should be a new thread, as I'd like to hear of more comments on the speech, even if use to compare what Lincoln though of his own words.
 
Joined
Oct 16, 2018
Messages
387
#10
One question I have about the Gettysburg address:

In the film Lincoln two recruits who talk to Lincoln have memorized the speech. Was this historically accurate? Was the speech as respected then as it became later?
I'm going to try and find the reports on it but they were BRUTAL at the time by anti-Lincoln newspapers.

Here's some:

London Times wrote that 'the ceremony was rendered ludicrous by some of the sallies of that poor President Lincoln...Anything more dull and commonplace it would not be easy to produce.'

Chicago Times: ‘The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances.’

the Harrisburgh Patriot and Union wrote their reason for choosing not to print his Gettysburgh address as, “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.” A few years ago they wrote a retraction of their response to it haha.

Like everything Lincoln did the response was divided based on if you liked what he was doing or not. That's all that mattered to them.

His second inaugural address (With malice toward none, with charity for all …) was “one of the most awkwardly expressed documents I ever read … When he knew it would be read by millions all over the world, why under the heavens did he not make it a little more creditable to American scholarship?" by a Pennsylvania paper.
NY Herald called it “a little speech of ‘glittering generalities’ used only to fill in the program.”
Chicago Times (his home state paper) called it “We did not conceive it possible that even Mr. Lincoln could produce a paper so slip-shod, so loose-jointed, so puerile, not alone in literary construction, but in its ideas, its sentiments, its grasp.”

That speech is on the base of the Lincoln Monument and considered one of the greatest speeches in US history.
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Messages
7,644
Location
Central Massachusetts
#12

TnFed

Sergeant
Joined
Jun 18, 2018
Messages
698
#13
I cant say for sure, but I really doubt that. That scene is typical Hollywood "artistic freedom". If it's historical accurate, I would really like to see a source. I am sure the speech grow more respected in the years following the war and especially in modern times.
Probably got an extra boost in modern times from Charles Laughton in Ruffles of Red Gap.:smile:
 

Arioch

Sergeant
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Joined
Dec 24, 2010
Messages
679
#15
My understanding has always been that the crowd at the dedication ceremony had been lulled to sleep / bludgeoned with boredom from Everette's speech that went on for over 2 hours.....and Lincoln immediately followed him....half of the audience was probably still asleep when Lincoln finished his address in a speedy 3 minutes....

Everette recognized the literary worth right away, and paid the president his admiring respects and compliments (you nailed it in 3 minutes,...while I could only dance around it in over 2 hours....[I'm paraphrasing, obviously])

It's also been my understanding that it was the British press that first (consistently) recognized the speech for it's literary worth....and commented on it, so... (I doubt with uniformity, though)

One other aspect....and this is purely my own speculation...but I think it's worthy of debate....I think the 'cult of Lincoln' that took hold after his assassination had a big impact on the speech's place in posterity....in the immediate after effect of the murder, the words and deeds of the 'martyr' were elevated to near prophet status....and then down through the years....as the immediate hurt and heartfelt emotions subsided....the veneration remained....lest we forget....
 
Last edited:

WJC

Brigadier General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
10,730
#16
Only a guess- we'll never know for sure. Lincoln had very high standards for his writing and public speaking. He was very self-critical. Then too, he probably felt anything he might say on such a solemn, symbolic occasion was inadequate in comparison to the actions of the honored dead. "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."
 

Jimklag

Lt. Colonel
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 3, 2017
Messages
9,911
Location
Chicagoland
#17
I believe the answer to the OP question is self-evident. After Everett's speech, Lincoln got up and gave a very short speech and sat back down before most of the people in the crowd had a chance to hear it. Therefore, he got very little applause and he saw a lot of audience puzzlement. The negative feedback from the live audience led him to believe the speech was a flop.
 

gary

Captain
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
6,338
#18
I think Abe was the master of the written word. Like a bricklayer, if he wasn't happy, he'd redo it until he was satisfied. A lot of lawyers and judges are like that too. They write, rewrite and when happy put it down. Then they revisit it weeks later when their minds are fresh and see if they still like it.
 

cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
33,528
Location
Right here.
#19
The premise of the OP is flawed. Lincoln didn't believe it was a poor speech.

The day after the speech, Lincoln received a note from the principal speaker of the day, Edward Everett, in which Everett, who was the premiere orator in the nation at that time, said, "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."

Lincoln's response was humble, but shows he knew precisely he had to have made a brief speech:

Executive Mansion
Washington
November 20, 1863

Hon. Edward Everett.
My dear Sir:

Your kind note of to-day is received. In our respective parts yesterday, you could not have been excused to make a short address, nor I a long one. I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure. Of course I knew Mr. Everett would not fail; and yet, while the whole discourse was eminently satisfactory, and will be of great value, there were passages in it which transcended my expectation. The point made against the theory of the general government being only an agency, whose principals are the States, was new to me, and, as I think, is one of the best arguments for the national supremacy. The tribute to our noble women for their angel-ministering to the suffering soldiers, surpasses, in its way, as do the subjects of it, whatever has gone before.

Our sick boy, for whom you kindly inquire, we hope is past the worst. Your Obt. Servt.

A. Lincoln

Lincoln knew what kind of speaker he was. He was highly experienced in giving a speech and knew what was good and what wasn't good. After all, he made his living for almost his entire adult life as a lawyer, legislator, and politician. Speaking in public was his bread and butter. He knew the speech was brief, and knew what he had said was what he wanted to say in the way he wanted to say it. The only source for Lincoln thinking the speech was a failure was the notoriously unreliable Ward Lamon, followed by Shelby Foote's questionable scholarship.
 
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Messages
7,634
Location
Denver, CO
#20
A short speech like that was obviously something that could be telegraphed to England and translated on the continent.
He avoided direct mention of slavery, because by November 1863 that work had already been done. He was speaking to the US mass audience and to Europe.
I think he knew that he had created some interest in the text of the speech. Lincoln and Seward knew what they were about.
 

Similar threads




(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Top