150 years later, paper retracts its editorial about the 'silly' Gettysburg address

In 1863, the Harrisburg, Pa. paper then known as the Patriot & Union published an editorial about Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

They panned it:

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.

That sentence has taken on a life of its own, as noted in a thorough and fascinating piece by Donald Gilliland that looks back on the infamous editorial, and the many misconceptions that accompany it.

For example: it was by no means the only coverage of the speech by the paper, now known as The Patriot-News, and it came days after the speech was made. It was also an editorial, rather than a "review" of the address, as many believe.

Also of note is that the paper was staunchly Democratic, meaning it had little love for Lincoln, making the editorial all the more understandable in context.

And yet... the line about Lincoln's "silly remarks" still resonates. As Gilliland notes, it "lives on - as counterpoint to Lincoln's masterful rhetoric - not only in scholarly literature, but in popular histories, Internet discussions and even the resource materials for school teachers distributed by the Gettysburg National Military Park."

So today, on the 150th anniversary of the address, the paper issued a retraction:

In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.

The accompanying tongue-in-cheek editorial, written as an ode to the Gettysburg Address, notes the misjudgement of "Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time ..."

"In the fullness of time, we have come to a different conclusion," they write.

The retraction is reminiscent of the one issued by Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader in 2004:

It has come to the editor's attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission.

  • Craig Silverman

    Craig Silverman (craig@craigsilverman.ca) is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends regarding accuracy and verification.


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