After 150 Years, Pennsylvania Newspaper Retracts Editorial Panning Gettysburg Address

Lincoln Gettysburg

With the 150th Anniversary of one of the most famous speeches in American history just days away, a Pennsylvania newspaper has reconsidered its initial reaction to the President’s words that day:

(CNN) – In what might be one of the oldest corrections in the history of journalism, the editorial board of a Pennsylvania newspaper has retracted its predecessor’s famous panning of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as “silly remarks.”

“Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to its audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives,” the editors of The Patriot-News wrote Thursday, evoking the opening words and style of Lincoln’s most famous speech.

Back then, the editors of the Patriot & Union newspaper — an ancestor of today’s Harrisburg paper — thought so little of Lincoln’s “silly remarks” that they hoped “the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and that they shall be no more reposted or thought of.”

Oopsie.

History didn’t cooperate.

While mildly received on its delivery, the November 19, 1863, speech marking the consecration of the national cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, has gone on to become one of the most famous pieces of writing in the American canon — inscribed on monuments, taught to schoolchildren and frequently surfacing in cultural references.

“Four score and seven years ago,” Lincoln wrote in the speech’s famous opening line, “our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

From the editorial retraction:

Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to its audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives.

We write today in reconsideration of “The Gettysburg Address,” delivered by then-President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the greatest conflict seen on American soil. Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time, called President Lincoln’s words “silly remarks,”deserving “a veil of oblivion,” apparently believing it an indifferent and altogether ordinary message, unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity.

In the fullness of time, we have come to a different conclusion. No mere utterance, then or now, could do justice to the soaring heights of language Mr. Lincoln reached that day. By today’s words alone, we cannot exalt, we cannot hallow, we cannot venerate this sacred text, for a grateful nation long ago came to view those words with reverence, without guidance from this chagrined member of the mainstream media.

The world will little note nor long remember our emendation of this institution’s record – but we must do as conscience demands

Nicely done, Patriot-News, nicely done.

Note: The photograph at the top of this post is the only known photograph of Lincoln at the Gettysburg battlefield on November 19, 1863. It was taken by the great Civil War era photographer Matthew Brady. While there is some disagreement among historians about which person in the photograph is Lincoln, if you look near the top center of the crowd in the photo, you’ll see a tall bearded man wearing a stovepipe hat that most seem to believe is the Sixteenth President of the United States.

FILED UNDER: Media, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    Well, now that Lincoln is considered a Democrat, he gets an MSM pass.

  2. wr says:

    @JKB: Wow, even this. There just isn’t a single thing in the world that you can’t twist into something to pity yourself over. You’re the right winger of the year!

  3. JohnMcC says:

    I was going to drop in a little comment to the effect that Lincoln himself was less than satisfied with his iconic ‘Address’. But upon using the google to make sure, I encountered Dr Richard Norquist’s article ‘Facts and Myths About the Gettysburg Address’ and discovered this isn’t true. He was supposed to deliver short ‘remarks’. Also, two witnesses reported he wrote the speech well beforehand in Washington — and not on the back of an envelope.

    Thanx for the opportunity to learn something new today.

  4. TCGreen says:

    I think the general consensus is that Lincoln is to the left of the man in the stovepipe hat and is looking down, I suspect probably reading the address. There has been some recent discussion about whether Lincoln has been identified in another photo from Gettysburg taken by Andrew Gardner, though there is some dispute about which person in he photo might be Lincoln. There was an article about it in USA Today back in September. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/24/abraham-lincoln-gettysburg-address-smithsonian-photograph/2854811/

  5. grumpy realist says:

    For some reason I’m reminded about the Vatican’s apology for burning Giordano Bruno at the stake, hundreds of years ago…..

  6. Tillman says:

    “Oops, we got history wrong. How clumsy of us.”

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    There’s no sense in rushing into these things.

  8. mattbernius says:

    @Tillman:

    “Oops, we got history wrong. How clumsy of us.”

    Actually, it’s a little more than that.

    This is a great reminder about how partisan journalism (i.e. Fox News) is actually a more historic and traditional form of American journalism than the idolized “Objective” journalism that came into fashion with the founding of Journalism Schools in the early twentieth century.

    The Patriot & Union was an Anti-Lincoln paper. Hence the savaging of the speech. This was a very common practice at the time.

  9. Jim Henley says:

    When the Gorbachev-era Soviet Supreme Court pardoned Nikolai Bukharin in 1988 his widow was still alive. I desperately wanted her to issue a statement saying, “This proves the system works!”

  10. An Interested Party says:

    I think the general consensus is that Lincoln is to the left of the man in the stovepipe hat…

    Not to mention to the left of many of today’s Republicans/conservatives…

  11. Tillman says:

    @mattbernius: Point taken, but to me it doesn’t reduce the absurdity of retracting the editorial a century and a half later.

  12. dazedandconfused says:

    @mattbernius:

    The local press didn’t escape R. Kipling’s epic panning Chicago. Spot on for the cable news of today.

    But I don’t think it was the blind hurry of the people, their
    argot, and their grand ignorance of things beyond their immediate
    interests that displeased me so much as a study of the daily
    papers of Chicago.

    Imprimis, there was some sort of a dispute between New York and
    Chicago as to which town should give an exhibition of products to
    be hereafter holden, and through the medium of their more
    dignified journals the two cities were yahooing and hi-yi-ing at
    each other like opposition newsboys. They called it humor, but
    it sounded like something quite different.

    That was only the first trouble. The second lay in the tone of
    the productions. Leading articles which include gems such as
    “Back of such and such a place,” or, “We noticed, Tuesday, such
    an event,” or, “don’t” for “does not,” are things to be accepted
    with thankfulness. All that made me want to cry was that in
    these papers were faithfully reproduced all the war-cries and
    “back-talk” of the Palmer House bar, the slang of the
    barber-shops, the mental elevation and integrity of the Pullman
    car porter, the dignity of the dime museum, and the accuracy of
    the excited fish-wife. I am sternly forbidden to believe that
    the paper educates the public. Then I am compelled to believe
    that the public educate the paper; yet suicides on the press are
    rare.

    http://www.online-literature.com/kipling/american-notes/5/