A Saturday Morning in Gettysburg

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We got to hang our with Abe! 

It is a beautiful today in south-central Pennsylvania–a perfect day to spend some time on the Gettysburg battlefield.  This morning we took ten students from my Pennsylvania history class to Gettysburg.  We have been reading Jim Weeks’s book Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine and exploring the way the battlefield has evolved since July 4, 1863.  I have given a lot tours of Gettysburg focused on military history, but until today I had never done a Gettysburg “memory” tour.

We have been focusing on how Gettysburg became a shrine of American civil religion–a destination for patriotic pilgrims.  We arrived at 7:30am for “devotions” at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.  I read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and stressed the religious nature of the speech.  We talked about what Lincoln meant by the use of words such as “consecrate,” “hallow,” “devotion,”  and “new birth.”  We discussed the blood sacrifice necessary to the consecration of such sacred ground.  And, since I teach at a Christian college, we talked about the difference between civil religion and Christian faith.

After our devotion in civil religion we headed to the Visitor Center.  Most of the students ended up in the bookstore.  Some of them bought souvenirs to remember their pilgrimage to this sacred site of American nationalism.  Others noted the way this sacred site is connected with the marketplace.  We even got our pictures taken with Lincoln, the great prophet of U.S. civil religion.

We spent the rest of the tour on these topics: race and the 1913 and 1938 reunions of Gettysburg veterans, with an assist from David Blight (at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial); the meaning of the Robert E. Lee statue (on Confederate Avenue); the Eisenhower Farm and Gettysburg as a Cold War site; the tension between battlefield authenticity and environmental concerns; the influence of popular culture (Jeff Schaara and Ted Turner) on the battlefield (at the monument to the 20th Maine on Little Round Top); and the role of Daniel Sickles in promoting the bill that brought the battlefield under control of the U.S. War Department.

Here are some pics:

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Students at the Lincoln Gettysburg Address memorial after “devotions” at the Gettysburg National Cemetery

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The “Ike” section of the Gettysburg Visitor Center store

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Anyone want to be buy me a Christmas present?  🙂

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Speaking of Abe… (photo by Joy Fea)

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Messiah College Pennsylvania History students at the Pennsylvania monument (Photo by Joy Fea)

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The “loyal women” of HIST 345: Pennsylvania History

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I was an official Gettysburg tour guide for the day!

Why Didn’t Obama Say "Under God" in His Recitation of the Gettysburg Address?

The History News Network has picked up a slightly longer version of yesterday’s post on this topic. Here is a taste:  

There is no conspiracy here. Obama did not omit the words “under God” because he was trying to rewrite the Gettysburg Address as a secret ploy to promote a God-less society. Instead, he was participating in a history lesson. Perhaps this minor controversy will now alert many to the fact that there were different versions of the speech Lincoln gave on November 19, 1863.
I hope history teachers will recognize this and use the various versions of the Gettysburg Address to teach their students how to think deeply and critically about some of our nation’s most important historical documents.
In the age of the Common Core, where close reading of texts has taken on a new importance in schools, an exercise comparing and contrasting the various versions of the Gettysburg Address could produce a wonderful pedagogical moment.

Obama, "Under God," and the Gettysburg Address

Conservatives are going crazy today because Barack Obama, while participating in a Ken Burns project on the Gettysburg Address, left out the phrase “under God” in his recitation of this great speech by Abraham Lincoln.

When I first heard this, I was very surprised.  It just seemed so odd, especially after Obama inadvertently left “God” out of a 2010 reference to the Declaration of Independence.  How could he make the same mistake twice?

But then I did some investigating.  After spending less than a minute on the “Learn the Address” website, I found this statement: “Did you know there are five versions of the Gettysburg Address?  We asked President Obama to read the first, the ‘Nicolay Verson’.”  You can learn about the five manuscript copies here.  The Nicolay version does not include the “under God” line in it.  By the way, Nicolay was one of Lincoln’s personal secretaries.

Well, that solves the problem.  There is no conspiracy here!  It turns out that Obama was participating in a history lesson.  Perhaps this small controversy will now alert many to the fact that there are different versions of the speech Lincoln gave on November 19, 1863.

But I do wonder why Obama’s staff would have agreed to let him read the John Nicolay version? Surely they knew that it did not contain the “under God” reference and as a result would lead to a big political headache at a time when Obama has enough problems to deal with on the Affordable Care Act front. Surely someone did their homework and thought about the political implications of his reading of the Nicolay version.

But apparently Obama or his staff did not anticipate this problem.  Yet another case why we need more historians in the politics business.

My Hometown Paper Retracts Its 1863 Editorial on the Gettysburg Address

In case you have not heard, the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News, known in 1863 as the Patriot & Union, did not like Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  In light of tomorrow’s 150th anniversary of the address, the newspaper has decided to retract its editorial.  Here is the editorial:

A Voice from the Dead We have read the oration of Mr. Everett. We have read the little speechesof President Lincoln, as reported for and published in his party press, and we have read the remarks of the Hon. Secretary of State, Wm. H. Seward,all delivered on the occasion of dedicating the National Cemetery, a plot ofground set apart for the burial of the dead who fell at Gettysburg in thememorable strife which occurred there between the forces of the FederalGovernment and the troops of the Confederacy of seceded States.To say of Mr. Everett’s oration that it rose to the height which the occasiondemanded, or to say of the President’s remarks that they fell below ourexpectations, would be alike false. Neither the orator nor the jestersurprised or deceived us. Whatever may be Mr. Everett’s failings he doesnot lack sense – whatever may be the President’s virtues, he does notpossess sense. Mr. Everett failed as an orator, because the occasion was amockery, and he knew it, and the President succeeded, because he actednaturally, without sense and without constraint, in a panorama which wasgotten up more for his benefit and the benefit of his party than for the gloryof the nation and the honor of the dead. We can readily conceive that the thousands who went there went asmourners, to view the burial place of their dead, to consecrate, so far ashuman agency could, the ground in which the slain heroes of the nation,standing in relationship to them of fathers, husbands, brothers, orconnected by even remoter ties of marriage or consanguinity, were to beinterred. To them the occasion was solemn; with them the motive washonest, earnest and honorable. But how was it with the chief actors in thepageant, who had no dead buried, or to be buried there; from none of whoseloins had sprung a solitary hero, living or dead, of this war which was begotten of their fanaticism and has been ruled by their whims?They stood there, upon that ground, not with hearts stricken with grief orelated by ideas of true glory, but coldly calculating the political advantages which might be derived from the solemn ceremonies of the dedication. We will not include in this category of heartless men the orator of the day; but evidently he was paralyzed by the knowledge that he was surrounded by unfeeling, mercenary men, ready to sacrifice their country and theliberties of their countrymen for the base purpose of retaining power and

accumulating wealth. Hi oration was therefore cold, insipid, unworthy theoccasion and the man. 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 thatthey shall be no more repeated or thought of.But the Secretary of State is a man of note. He it was who first fulminatedthe doctrine of the irrepressible conflict; and on the battle field and burialground of Gettysburg he did not hesitate to re-open the bleeding wound,and proclaim anew the fearful doctrine that we are fighting all these bloody battles, which have drenched our land in gore, to upset the Constitution,emancipate the negro and bind the white man in the chains of despotism.On that ground which should have been sacred from the pollution ofpolitics, even the highest magnate in the land, next to the Presidenthimself, did not hesitate to proclaim the political policy and fixed purposeof the administration; a policy which if adhered to will require more groundthan Gettysburg to hold our dead, and which must end in the ruin of thenation. The dead of Gettysburg will speak from their tombs; they will raisetheir voices against this great wickedness and implore our rulers todiscard from their councils the folly which is destroying us, and return tothe wise doctrines of the Fathers, to the pleadings of Christianity, to thecompromises of the Constitution, which can alone save us. Let our rulershearken to the dead, if they will not to the living – for from every tomb which covers a dead soldier, if they listen attentively they will hear asolemn sound invoking them to renounce partisanship for patriotism, andto save the country from the misery and desolation which, under theirpresent policy, is inevitable.

Ken Burns: "The Address"

Ken Burns is working on a new documentary film about the Civil War.  It is called “The Address” and it chronicles the story of a group of Vermont schoolboys with learning disabilities who memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address.  Here is a taste of an article on the documentary in USA Today:

Greenwood School Headmaster Stewart Miller said that reciting the Gettysburg Address has been a core of the school’s curriculum for all of its 35 years. This year, about 250 parents, fellow former students and others attended.

“When you memorize something, you really own it, it becomes a part of you,” Miller said.

The Gettysburg Address “is not a long speech, but it has a lot of complexity,” Miller said. “It is about finding the inner strength to push through. What we talk about is grit — setting a goal and sticking to it.”

Burns said he thinks the 150th anniversary is an opportunity for all Americans to revisit Lincoln’s message in the darkest days of the Civil War.

“We will challenge the rest of America to try to memorize the Gettysburg Address and we are hoping it will be among the greatest mass memorizations in history,” he said.

More on Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, and "Under God"

You may recall that last month we blogged about a First Things article by Robert George in which he relayed his experience at a meeting of the American Constitutional Society for Law and Policy. At that meeting George was given a free copy of the Gettysburg Address that had the words “under God” omitted.

At Brainstorm, Mark Bauerlein offers his own take on George’s experience:

George notes that there are five drafts of the Address, and two of them do not include “under God.” But, he argues, those two are the least authoritative.

“The two drafts not containing the words are known as the Nicolay draft and the Hay draft. They are held in the Library of Congress. The other three, all containing the words, are known as the Everett, Bancroft, and Bliss copies. The Everett copy is held in the Illinois State Historical Society Library in Springfield. The Bancroft is in the Kroch Library at Cornell University. The Bliss is on display at the White House.

“The Bliss copy is generally regarded as the authoritative one, mainly because it is the last—and the only one to which Lincoln actually attached his signature. The Nicolay draft is thought to be the earliest. It gets its name from the custodian of Lincoln’s papers. The Hay draft was found among John Hay’s papers about 40 years after Lincoln’s death. It seems to have the greatest number of deviations from the other drafts and from what Lincoln is known to have said at Gettysburg. The Everett copy was sent to Edward Everett by Lincoln at Everett’s request in 1864. (Everett was the famed orator who was actually the main speaker at the ceremony at Gettysburg the day Lincoln spoke.) The Bancroft copy got its name because Lincoln produced it for George Bancroft, a historian and secretary of the Navy. The Bliss copy is named for the publisher Alexander Bliss—Bancroft’s stepson.

“Of course, none of these copies is actually the Gettysburg Address. The Gettysburg Address is the set of words actually spoken by Lincoln at Gettysburg. And, as it happens, we know what those words are. (The Bliss copy nearly perfectly reproduces them.) Three entirely independent reporters, including a reporter for the Associated Press, telegraphed their transcriptions of Lincoln’s remarks to their editors immediately after the president spoke. All three transcriptions include the words “under God,” and no contemporaneous report omits them. There isn’t really room for equivocation or evasion: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—one of the founding texts of the American republic—expressly characterizes the United States as a nation under God.”

Why prefer the dubious versions, then? Obviously, for ideological reasons. To have references to God in a founding text runs against the Society’s contention that “government must be neutral not only among competing traditions of religious faith, but between religion and atheism,” George explains. So, the Society is willing to toss out scholarly principle and common sense in order to maintain an ideological position. The Society has amended the pamphlet on its Web site by adding the words “The Hay Draft,” an act that only compounds the error.

George concludes, “The omission of the words ‘under God’ in a document characterized as a founding text by a liberal legal advocacy organization in the context of our contemporary debates over the role of religion in American public life and the meaning of the Constitution’s provisions pertaining to religion is just too convenient.”