November 19, 2014

On November 19, 1863, various newspapers, magazines, and even the Associated Press wire service reported on President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

President Lincoln was not the featured speaker at the Nov. 19 dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Lincoln didn’t read his short address until the main speaker, Edward Everett, had finished delivering a two-hour speech.

Here’s a video recreation of the Gettysburg Address:

Depending on their political leanings, newspapers added their own comment to coverage of the speech.

“On the day following the Gettysburg dedication, many of the nation’s newspapers reprinted the speech, along with the one given by Edward Everett. Reaction to Lincoln’s address was frequently divided along political lines.

Newspapers critical of the President had snide things to say about the speech’s brevity and inappropriateness to the occasion. Lincoln supporters, on the other hand, published glowing reviews and noted the classical elegance and heartfelt emotion of the address.

Chicago Tribune: ‘The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man.’

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

— “The Gettysburg Address
Cornell University Library

“The New York Tribune and many other newspapers indicated ‘(Applause)’ at five places in the address and ‘(Long continued applause)’ at the end. The applause, however, according to most of the responsible witnesses, was formal, a tribute to the occasion.

….The American correspondent of the 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.’ Count Gurowski wrote in his diary, ‘Lincoln spoke, with one eye to a future platform and to re-election.’

The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin said thousands who would not read the elaborate oration of Mr. Everett would read the President’s few words ‘and not many will do it without a moistening of the eye and a swelling of the heart.’

The Providence Journal reminded readers of the saying that the hardest thing in the world is to make a good five-minute speech: ‘We know not where to look for a more admirable speech than the brief one which the President made at the close of Mr. Everett’s oration.'”

— “Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years and the War Years
By Carl Sandburg, 1954

For the 150th anniversary of the speech, Ken Burns organized the “Learn the Address” project. It included a number of readings and videos by journalists.

The Gettysburg Address is also remembered in his film “The Civil War.” Here is an excerpt called, “A New Birth of Freedom”:

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