Credit Where it is Due

Finest two minutes

Lincoln thought he failed November 19, 1863…  obligatory applause from a damp crowd in Gettysburg offered him little consolation.  Lincoln had just followed a masterful two-hour speech from America’s greatest orator, Edward Everett.  The President sat down in his seat and commented to his friend, Ward Lamon, that the speech wouldn’t “scour” (would fail to clear away.)  He left Gettysburg believing the bad press that followed the ceremony.  The Chicago Times recorded, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

Greatness acknowledged

Edward Everett put the ceremony in the proper perspective:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. 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.




Filed under Ephemera, News

5 responses to “Credit Where it is Due

  1. I’ve always thought that was so gracious (and perceptive) of Everett.

  2. That story about Lincoln somehow being disappointed, and the remark about “not being able to scour” is in dispute. The speech performed exactly as Lincoln had intended. Here’s a more nuanced academic investigation, one that references and unifies many divergent eyewitness accounts:–lincoln-and-the-gettysburg-awakening?rgn=main;view=fulltext;q1=gettysburg

    As far as the Chicago Times being representative of a generally bad press reaction, Democratic papers (like the Times) derided the speech, while Republican papers extolled it as effective and virtuous. Public opinion and the press in 1863 were split along the same partisan lines we have currently.

    • Anything that strays from the Hay/Nicolay narrative is frowned upon by the Lincoln establishment. Lamon’s account is discredited because of his personal failings- which somehow make his recollections unreliable. Shelby Foote was fond of the story which is why I still give it credence.

      Lincoln came to realize the effectiveness of the speech in the weeks following, largely due to its brevity- allowing it to have a wider publication. There was a general feeling of malaise as sickness was sweeping through Lincoln’s inner circle before and after the ceremony.

      • There’s also the possibility that Lincoln intended brevity partly because he had been made aware of how awful the area smelled, what with thousands of unburied horse and mule carcasses still rotting there.

        Gettysburg residents went about with heavily-scented kerchiefs in constant use, and the stench remained deep into the winter of 1863.

      • Everett spoke well over two hours and from memory- so his speech wasn’t as widely published, and now is largely forgotten. But Lincoln followed the letter of his invitation from David Wills- just a few appropriate remarks.

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