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The Long Shadow of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Jared Peatman

Publication Year: 2013

When Abraham Lincoln addressed the crowd at the new national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863, he intended his speech to be his most eloquent statement on the inextricable link between equality and democracy. However, unwilling to commit to equality at that time, the nation stood ill-prepared to accept the full message of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In the ensuing century, groups wishing to advance a particular position hijacked Lincoln’s words for their own ends, highlighting the specific parts of the speech that echoed their stance while ignoring the rest. Only as the nation slowly moved toward equality did those invoking Lincoln’s speech come closer to recovering his true purpose. In this incisive work, Jared Peatman seeks to understand Lincoln’s intentions at Gettysburg and how his words were received, invoked, and interpreted over time, providing a timely and insightful analysis of one of America’s most legendary orations.

After reviewing the events leading up to November 19, 1863, Peatman examines immediate responses to the ceremony in New York, Gettysburg itself, Confederate Richmond, and London, showing how parochial concerns and political affiliations shaped initial coverage of the day and led to the censoring of Lincoln’s words in some locales.  He then traces how, over time, proponents of certain ideals invoked the particular parts of the address that suited their message, from reunification early in the twentieth century to American democracy and patriotism during the world wars and, finally, to Lincoln’s full intended message of equality during the Civil War centennial commemorations and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Peatman also explores foreign invocations of the Gettysburg Address and its influence on both the Chinese constitution of 1912 and the current French constitution. An epilogue highlights recent and even current applications of the Gettysburg Address and hints at ways the speech might be used in the future.

By tracing the evolution of Lincoln’s brief words at a cemetery dedication into a revered document essential to American national identity, this revealing work provides fresh insight into the enduring legacy of Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address on American history and culture.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Cover, Flaps

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xv

I spent over ten years working on this project, off and on, and thus owe debts of sincere gratitude to a significant number of people without whom I never could have brought this book to fruition. I began the project in 2001 as an undergraduate in one of Gabor Boritt’s Lincoln seminars, and he has encouraged this book’s progress over the last decade. At...

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Associated Press Transcription of the Gettysburg Address

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p. xvi-xvi

This is the version of the speech that most Americans saw in the 1860s as it was widely printed in newspapers around the country and, thus, is the version that is cited and used in chapters 1 and 2.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new Nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. [Applause.] Now we are...

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Bliss Version of the Gettysburg Address

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pp. xvii-xx

By the early 1900s, the “Bliss” copy of the Gettysburg Address, the fifth and final copy that Lincoln wrote out by hand on March 18, 1864, had become most prevalent. Robert Todd Lincoln announced his preference for this version, and it is the one that was inscribed on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. Beginning with chapter 3, unless otherwise noted, all references to the speech...

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pp. 1-5

As the passengers neared Gettysburg on November 17, 1963, they must have reflected, at least briefly, on events a hundred years in the past. Just one day short of a full century earlier, Secretary of State William Henry Seward accompanied President Abraham Lincoln to the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg. Seward was joined...

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1. The Final Resting Place: The Creation and Dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery

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pp. 6-31

Three days of intense conflict, July 1–3, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, left the borough with a butcher’s toll of fifty-one thousand casualties, including an estimated seven thousand dead humans and five thousand horses. Put another way, six million pounds of flesh lay on once peaceful farm fields. The horses were burned; most of the humans were...

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2. The Luckless Sallies of That Poor President Lincoln: Responses to the Gettysburg Address, 1863

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pp. 32-71

Newspaper coverage of the dedication ceremonies and Abraham Lincoln’s address commenced the very next day, November 20. More than any other person, Associated Press reporter Joseph Gilbert shaped those early stories. Most papers around the country picked up his account of the ceremonies and accompanying transcription of Lincoln’s speech. The...

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3. A Prophet with a Vision: 1901–22

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pp. 72-114

On July 4, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a crowd of veterans and spectators at Gettysburg. Marking the fifty years that had passed since the battle, the native Virginian commented, “How wholesome and healing the peace has been! We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our...

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4. For That Cause They Will Fight to the Death: Wartime Usages of the Gettysburg Address

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pp. 115-147

In June 1917, as the first American soldiers landed in France to join the fight against the Central Powers, the Times of London assured its readers, “The men in these ships, and the millions they left behind them, know well what is the cause for which they are ready to sacrifice their all. It was defined for them and for the kindred democracies of the world...

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5. The Very Core of America’s Creed: 1959–63

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pp. 148-192

In the dozen years after World War II, the United States continued to deploy the Gettysburg Address worldwide for propagandistic purposes. In 1950, General Dwight David Eisenhower oversaw a campaign by the Crusade for Freedom, the fund-raising arm of Radio Free Europe, to honor West Berlin’s fight against communism with the presentation of...

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pp. 193-195

Abraham Lincoln frequently read the Richmond newspapers, the Richmond Examiner and Richmond Dispatch, in particular, and it is quite possible he saw their comments on his speech at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg. It might have amused him that they portrayed his impromptu remarks on November 18 as the only public words he...

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pp. 196-206

When Martin Luther King Jr. invoked the Gettysburg Address in his Dream speech, he appeared to release Lincoln’s words from a century of labor and send them off into a productive retirement. King incorporated the ideals of the Gettysburg Address and elevated them even higher in the same way that Lincoln incorporated and sharpened the ideals of the Declaration...


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pp. 207-224


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pp. 225-236


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pp. 237-244

About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 244

E-ISBN-13: 9780809333110
E-ISBN-10: 0809333112
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809333103
Print-ISBN-10: 0809333104

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 16
Publication Year: 2013