CHARLES: Welcome to the last of the summer series. And all of us are glad that summer itself is not over, I'm sure. Allen C. Guelzo is one of the nation's leading authorities on the Civil War period. He has authored and contributed to many books and journal articles on the topic. And he has written extensively on the life and presidency of Abraham Lincoln.
The Henry R. Lewis III professor of civil war era and the director of the Civil War era studies at Gettysburg college in Pennsylvania, Allen has the distinction of being the first double Lincoln laureate in history. In 2000, he was awarded the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize and the Abraham Lincoln Institute Prize for his intellectual biography of Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. He received both prizes again in 2005 for his book, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America.
An accomplished scholar, Allen has received numerous teaching and writing awards. Originally interested in entering the ministry, Allen received a Bachelor of Science in biblical studies from the Philadelphia Biblical University and a master of divinity degree from Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia. He returned to school to study history and earned a Master of Arts degree in 1979 and a PhD in 1986, both from the University of Pennsylvania.
Allen's essays and reviews and articles have appeared in publications ranging from the American Historical Review and Wilson Quarterly to newspapers such as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times. He has been featured on such programs as NPR'S Weekend Edition Sunday, Brian Lamb's Booknotes, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. You're going to talk about that?
Among his other critically acclaimed books are The Crisis of the American Republic: A History of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Abraham Lincoln as a Man of Ideas, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America, Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction, and Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Allen's most recent book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, was on the New York Times' bestseller list for eight weeks and shares this year's Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, making Allen the only three-time winner of that award. It has also won the inaugural Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History, the Fletcher Pratt Award of the New York City Roundtable, and the Richard Harwell Award of the Atlanta Civil War Roundtable. It's a pleasure to welcome to our stage Allen C. Guelzo. Little Note, nor Long Remember: Why Do We Remember the Gettysburg Address?
ALLEN GUELZO: Thank you, Charles, for that kind introduction. And thank you all for coming out tonight. I bring you greetings from Gettysburg. We do not have in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania great, beautiful gorges such as you have here. But we do have a battlefield. So when you have the opportunity, as I've come here, come and visit us in Gettysburg and take a tour of the battlefield and see what really is this hallowed ground.
Let me begin by citing some items. Item number one-- on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, a commemoration ceremony at ground zero featured a New York politician reading the Gettysburg Address. Item-- in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. told a black journalist that his "I Have a Dream" speech was designed to be a sort of Gettysburg Address. And he opened it with words directly modeled on the Gettysburg Address. King said five score years ago, a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Item number three-- in the 1935 movie Ruggles of Red Gap, an English butler played by Charles Laughton, set loose on the American frontier, establishes his right to a piece of the American dream by reciting, in front of a saloon full of incredulous cowboys, the Gettysburg Address.
Is it too much to ask what exactly is going on here? The short story of the Gettysburg Address is that it was a surprisingly short speech, all of 272 words, delivered by Abraham Lincoln as part of the dedication ceremonies for the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, four and a half months after the climactic battle of the American Civil War there. But the long story is that no single American utterance has had the staying power or commanded the respect and reverence accorded the Gettysburg Address.
It has been engraved on the south wall of the Lincoln Memorial, translated in a book devoted to nothing but translations of the Gettysburg Address, and analyzed in at least nine full dress critical studies over the last century. It has even become the stuff of American myth and legend, ranging from the story invented in the 1880s that Lincoln wrote the address as an afterthought on the back of an envelope while on the train bringing him to Gettysburg and ranging to the equally dubious story that no one in the audience of 10,000 to 15,000 people who heard Lincoln read the Gettysburg Address thought it was any good. Let me put the myths out of the way before going any further, because the myths only cloud up the question of the address's stature.
Contrary to the train ride story, Lincoln had been working on his remarks for days before leaving Washington for the dedication ceremonies and had a full finished version in hand when he boarded the train. As a chronically fussy and unsatisfied editor of his own words, he did write a new ending once he arrived in Gettysburg. But there is nothing which suggests he wrote any part of the address on route.
There is even less reason to believe the connard manufactured principally by Lincoln's friend and bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, that the address fell as flat as a wall on its hearers at Gettysburg. To the contrary, the response of the American public was at once a mixture of astonishment and of admiration. The crowd in the cemetery listened, according to a witness whose letter was published 11 days after the ceremonies, as he slowly, clearly read the address. And you could not mistake the feeling and sentiment of the vast multitude before him.
The same impression was made at a distance by those who read the text of the address in the newspapers. "This morning's paper," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote to his publisher the day after the dedication ceremonies, "brings the report of Lincoln's brief speech at Gettysburg, which seems to me admirable." Ralph Waldo Emerson echoed Longfellow. "Lincoln's brief speech at Gettysburg will not easily be surpassed by words on any recorded occasion" And Charles Sumner, senator from Massachusetts, believed that Lincoln could not have been more mistaken when he suggested that the world would little note nor long remember any of what was said by anyone at the dedication ceremonies. "No," said Sumner. "The world noted at once what he said and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech. Since Simonides wrote the epitaph for those who fell at Thermopylae, nothing equal to them has breathed over the fallen dead."
Within 20 months of its delivery, the Gettysburg Address was already being anthologized in elocution primers for memorization and for school use. So much for the myths. Although, looked at from a distance, even the myths are a backhanded tribute to the address, for only a document of near divine inspiration could have been written on a train. And a speech of world historical moment would certainly arch so far above the heads of its first hearers as to leave them baffled.
However, historical sheet straightening of this sort only begs my question, which is not really whether people in 1863 understood the address to have been a mountaintop piece of political rhetoric, but why it struck so many people as being such from the start. Partly this is because of the address's language and vocabulary. It obeys the Churchillian dictum. Short words are best, and old words when short are best of all.
Much has been written and will be written about the simple grandeur of the Gettysburg Address, it's reliance on short, pungent, colloquial vocabulary over against the hyper-inflected Latinate lexicon beloved of so many school textbooks. In this address of 272 words, 190 of them are single syllables. Only four are four syllables. Rarely has so much been compressed into such simple and uncomplicated elements.
But I am not sure the simplicity of Lincoln's vocabulary explains very much on its own. Short words are not necessarily interesting words or even clear ones. And certainly not every word in the address is short. It is not just a simplified vocabulary which makes the Gettysburg Address remarkable, but an overall pattern of conscious simplicity, which Lincoln adopted.
Public speaking in Lincoln's day was actually a four-way struggle between several different patterns of speech. There was vernacular or folk speech, technical speech which is what you might find in instruction manuals, middling speech, and classical or academic speech. What Lincoln had always adopted as his style of speech was the pattern of middling speech-- the speech of the lawyers, the popular preachers, and the newspapers. Middling speech was above the slangy bluntness of folk speech, but without overreaching for the inflated, euphemistic, self-conscious speech of the literati.
This was, in other words, the same middle ground occupied culturally and politically by Lincoln's own Republican Party, which aspired to represent the American middle class. Like the middle class entrepreneurs, commercial farmers and manufacturers whom Lincoln praised and defended as over against the slave-owning plantation class, middling speech could verge on the plainness of slang, as Lincoln sometimes did to the discomfort of the prissy. But it was also rational enough to sustain argument. It could have both an inelegant plainness and occasional peaks of refined professionalism. The middling style was what George Ticknor Curtis called a talking style with a little more of elegant [FRENCH], of free, bold Anglo-Saxon headiness.
Now just how consciously middling Lincoln wanted the Gettysburg Address to be can be seen from how he constructed the famous opening line, "Four score and seven years ago." On July 7. 1863, speaking to an exultant crowd which had gathered in the White House driveway to cheer Lincoln for the newly announced victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Lincoln offered what should be considered as a first draft of the Gettysburg Address. This was not a planned-for occasion. Lincoln was speaking off the cuff-- vernacularly, shall we say. And it showed.
Lincoln said, "How long ago is it? 80 odd years since on the 4th of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. That was the birthday of the United States of America. Now, on this last 4th of July just past, when we have a gigantic rebellion at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow the principle that all men were created equal, we have the surrender of a most powerful position and army on that very day. And not only so, but in a succession of battles in Pennsylvania near to us through three days, so rapidly fought that they might be called one great battle on the first, second, and third of the month of July and on the fourth, the cohorts of those who oppose the declaration that all men are created equal turn tail and run."
We can hear some of the advance echoes of what will become the Gettysburg Address in those words. But they appear in the pattern of vernacular speech-- unscripted, unselfconscious, like, how long ago is it? 80 odd years? And all strung along in a single awkwardly run together sentence that piles up rebellion, Vicksburg, and Gettysburg in a disjointed stack.
Four and a half months later, however, these words will become the memorable four score and seven years ago. And the ungainly allusion to a rebellion and a battle will become a swift, neat progression from a great Civil War to a great battlefield of that war. Four score and seven years ago is thus a rhetorical stretch toward middle class refinement.
But notice that Lincoln does not stretch it all the way to becoming classical speak, to Simonides and Thermopylae. The model from which Lincoln developed the new vocabulary of four score and seven years ago comes not from classical Athens, but from a contemporary political speech, a highly touted thank you given in July 1861 by Pennsylvania Congressman Galusha Grow. After his election as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Grow said, "Four score years ago, 56 bold merchants, farmers, lawyers, and mechanics, the representatives of a few feeble colonists, scattered along the Atlantic seaboard, met in convention to found a new empire based on the inalienable rights of man." Sounds familiar.
There's no way of telling what it was about Grow's speech which stuck in Lincoln's mind for two years. But it definitely cancels out any notion that Lincoln was reaching for a classical style. If anything, the unprecedented popularity which attached itself at once to the Gettysburg Address actually marks the end of the prestige and dominance of classical speech in American rhetoric and its sad consignment to oddity. The address marks the end of the culture of eloquence, burying it alongside the soldiers in the National Cemetery.
Still, anyone with ears to hear in 1863 would have heard more than Galusha Grow in that opening, "Four score and seven years ago." Those four words would have been instantly recognizable as a rhetorical shadow of the meditation on the brevity of human life. "The days of our years are threescore years and 10," in Psalm 90 verse 10 in the authorized version of the Bible.
The new nation which the founders brought forth upon this continent is, likewise, a shadow of Luke 2 verse 7 where the Virgin Mary brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. But certainly the most obvious biblical allusion was the one reserved for the end of the address, that dedication to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, which will result in a new birth of freedom, the new birth being an echo of the third chapter of St. John's gospel, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God."
These echoes of the authorized version may suggest to our biblically illiterate sensibilities something far more ornate and recondite than middling speech. But in fact, the authorized version was very much the property of middling speakers. Lincoln had it ground to familiarity in his childhood. And it provided an easy rhetorical connection to a population which still understood and embraced the authorized version as tantamount to God's own speech.
Far from representing a form of classical speaking, the 19th century saw two major elite campaigns to unseat the dominance of the authorized version, the first in the 1830s and the second in the 1880s, culminating in the creation of the revised version of the Bible in 1881 to '85. Significantly, the revisers of the 1880s were bitterly contested at every point, precisely because they represented the interest of scholars, linguists, and historians in producing a document more in harmony with their own elite expectations of the present standard of biblical scholarship, which has made very great advances since 1611. By contrast, the authorized version for all of its Elizabethan and Jacobean origins was clung to determinedly by middle class Protestants for another century.
The Gettysburg Address was not an effort by Lincoln to confine himself to a collection of monosyllabic grunts. He was showing how a great idea can be captured without resorting to the stilted formality of classical speech. And in that respect, the address was one slice of a larger culture war being waged by a free labor middle class against on the one hand an elite culture of slaveholders and their allies who despised middle class values and a vernacular culture whose envy of the middle class had led them into an unholy alliance with the planters. So maybe the vocabulary of the address, even though simple, is not as simple as it seems.
If not in its vocabulary, then perhaps the fame of the address can be chalked up to a more humdrum quality. And that is its compactness. It is short and, therefore, easy to remember and memorize. It was, to be sure, intended to be short since Lincoln had not been invited to deliver an oration, but in the words of the invitation issued by the local Gettysburg promoter, David Wills, to formally set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks. And one wonders if there was not a silent underline beneath few. As Lincoln told the journalist, Noah Brooks, "My speech isn't long. It is short, short, short."
There would be a formal oration. But it would be delivered not by Lincoln, but by the formidable Massachusetts orator Edward Everett-- former Massachusetts congressman, governor of Massachusetts, United States senator briefly, member of President Millard Fillmore's cabinet, President of Harvard, and most recently and ironically candidate for Vice President in 1860 on the short-lived Constitutional Union Party ticket running against Lincoln. And along with Everett, there would be a lengthy prayer from the congressional chaplain, Thomas Stockton, an ode composed by Benjamin French, and a benediction pronounced by the president of nearby Pennsylvania College, Henry L. Baugher, whose son lay buried in the nearby town cemetery, mortally wounded at Shiloh the year before.
Everett, as the principal draw of the November 19 ceremonies, delivered a two and a half hour, 13,000 word doozy of an address. It was, in its own way, a perfectly respectable example of classical rhetorical art, coming from the former occupant of Harvard's Eliot Chair in Greek Literature. And much, much more so than Lincoln's, Everett began by reminding the thousands who crowded into the new cemetery for the ceremonies that it was appointed by law in-- where else-- Athens that the obsequies of the citizens who fell in battle should be performed at the public expense and in the most honorable manner.
He was careful to remind his hearers that he had visited Athens. And he had been there and walked around the Pantheon, just in case anyone had any doubt of his bona fides. From there, he went on to invoke those who fell at Marathon. Added on top, Horace's maxim that "it is sweet and becoming to die for one's country," plus allusions to Romulus, Cyrus-- Cyrus the Great, not Miley Cyrus-- and Julius Caesar and concluding the oration finally with a quotation from Thucydides. "'The whole earth,' said Pericles, as he stood over the remains of his fellow citizens who had fallen in the first year of the Peloponnesian War, 'the whole earth is the sepulcher of illustrious men.'"
But it was all length and no soundbite. And at the end there was little alternative to memorizing the whole thing or simply forgetting it. Lincoln's long suit, on the other hand, was his capacity to capture an idea in the fewest and clearest words possible.
John Todd Stuart, who had been Lincoln's first mentor in reading law and who knew Lincoln for over 30 years, thought that Lincoln was simply by temperament logical, mathematical. He had nothing rhetorical in his nature. Lincoln had, after all, been a trial lawyer in a state where juries were still pulled into the jury box from bystanders. And Lincoln would either make his point clearly and swiftly or he would not be practicing law for very long.
Lincoln did not rate professional orators like Everett very highly. And to Noah Brooks, Lincoln singled out Everett as a particularly annoying example of sound and fury signifying nothing. "Now do you know, I think Edward Everett was very much overrated," Lincoln said. There was one speech in which, addressing a statue of John Adams and a picture of Washington in Faneuil Hall, Boston, he apostrophized them both and said, "Teach us the love of liberty protected by law." That, Lincoln admitted, was very fine. But it was only a good idea introduced by noble language.
Looked at from that angle, Lincoln is a man of no verbal wastage whatsoever. In his address, he describes the past and what it did, which is create a republic of equal citizens, then describes what the people at the ceremonies are doing in the present-- dedicating a cemetery-- and then moves to what they are to do for the future, which is to dedicate themselves to the same principles to which the soldiers were dedicated. In that way, the Gettysburg Address by contrast with Edward Everett is almost anorexic. It makes no mention of slavery, the Constitution. It paints no picture of the great battle. It even fails to acknowledge the civilian politicians, David Wills of Gettysburg and Andrew Curtin, the governor of Pennsylvania, who had made the purchase of the cemetery acreage possible in the first place.
And yet for all of its compactness, the Gettysburg Address is not quite so compact as it seems. It may be only 272 words long, but those 272 words are strung out into 10 complicated sentences, all of which are much more cumbersome to parse on the page than they are to hear in the open. And Lincoln does not mind throwing compactness to the wind when he wants to make a lilting impression on the ear.
The well-known repetitive triplets "we cannot dedicate," "we cannot consecrate," "we cannot hallow this ground," and "government of the people, by the people, for the people"-- those are the exact opposite of compactness and actually constitute a puzzling luxury if we consider the address only as a terse alternative to Everett, inclining to still more terseness. But Lincoln was not offering a treatise to be read, but an exhortation to be heard. Like middling speech, the address is an effort to persuade, not to ornament or decorate. And each stroke of those triplets is a powerful pull on the convictions of Lincoln's listeners, hauling them upwards toward climaxes that overcome the attentive mind with a motion, even as they persuade it with logic.
So maybe the genius of the address is not length either. Well, if not shortness or compactness, what does account for the fame of the address? For that, we must hear the address as Lincoln's hearer's heard it and see that the real impact of the address arose from the single aspect of the address we are least likely to recognize at once. And that was the survival of democracy.
We take democracy for granted as the default position of human societies, as the natural template for modern politics, as the end of history. And so it's difficult for us to be moved by an address which is at bottom a set of reasons why democracy should not be abandoned. Like Thomas Jefferson in 1826, we are confident that the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them.
But in truth, even as Jefferson wrote those words, the confidence of the founders that the disorders, oppressions, and incertitude of Europe will terminate very much in favor of the rights of man was evaporating. The French Revolution, which promised to be the American Revolution's beachhead in Europe, swiftly circled downwards in the reign of terror and then the tyranny of Bonaparte. Democratic uprisings in Spain in 1820, in Russia in 1825, in France in 1830, and across Europe in 1848 were crushed or subverted by newly Renaissant monarchies and romantic philosophers glorying in regimes built upon blood, soil, and nationality rather than the rights of man. At every point, democracy-- government by the consent of the governed-- lay discredited and disgraced.
And a cynical Prussian nobleman, Otto von Bismarck, could advise his French counterpart that although Bismarck claimed that in early life his tendencies were all toward republicanism, he had discovered that when you have governed men for several years, you, a liberal, will be transformed from a Republican to a monarchist. "Believe me," Bismarck said, "one cannot lead or bring to prosperity a great nation without the principle of authority-- that is, the Monarchy." The outbreak of the American Civil War only gave the monarchs further reason to rejoice, because the success of the American democracy was the one thing which unsettled their captive peoples and threw their theories about the superiority of monarchy into a shade. That this same troublesome democracy would in 1861 obligingly proceed to blow its own political brains out and do it in defense of the virtues of human slavery gave the monarchs no end of delight.
"The success of the slaveholding secessionists in America would," said the King of the Belgians, Leopold I, with a sigh of relief, "raise a barrier against the United States and provide a support for the monarchical aristocratic principle in the Southern states." "The union is in agony," wrote the Spanish ambassador from Washington to his queen. "And our mission is not to delay its death for a moment."
Lincoln also saw the fundamental issue of the Civil War as the question of democracy's death, only from precisely the opposite perspective as Bismarck and Leopold. "This nation," Lincoln said, "had been dedicated to the democratic proposition that all men are created equal." The Civil War was the test of whether democratic regimes, whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. It has survived two severe tests of such a government, the establishing and the successful administering of it. But there remained, Lincoln warned, one final test-- its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it. And that test was now upon them in the form of the Civil War.
"The central idea pervading this struggle," Lincoln told his secretary, John Hay, back in the beginning of the war, "is the necessity of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. For if we fail, it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves." If democracies are too unstable to prevent self disintegration, too feckless to stop self-disintegration when it started, then the folly and instability of democracy would lie open and exposed for all time. And the collapse of what Lincoln called "the last best hope of Earth" would be taken as proof positive of the need for a Bismarck or a Leopold to run the show.
The Battle of Gettysburg, with its astounding and seemingly bottomless list of dead and maimed, offered Lincoln the first substantial glimmer during the war that this test would indeed be passed. Gettysburg was not only a victory, but a victory won with the Union armies backed to the wall. And its news came with symbolic appropriateness on the anniversary of American independence.
Above all, the victory was itself the product of enormous self-sacrifice, a third again more than all the British and allied casualties at Waterloo. And these casualties were not professional soldiers, the Duke of Wellington's scum of the earth who had taken their Shilling and their chants together. Nor were they dispirited peasants, driven into battle by the whips of their betters.
No, those who had made that last full sacrifice were ordinary, middle-class citizens, precisely the kinds of ordinary democratic people whom democracy's cultured despisers had laughingly doubted would ever be made to do anything except calculate profits and losses. These people, many of whom were now buried in the cemetery Lincoln was dedicating-- these middle-class bourgeoisie with their middle-class manners, middle-class tastes, and middle-class speech-- these people whom the German poet Heinrich Heine dismissed in 1834 as boors living in America, "that big pig-pen of freedom"-- these people whom Charles Dickens sneered at as "the ebb of honest men's contempt"-- these people had risen up and offered everything they had, present and future, that that nation might live. The soldiers who fought at Gettysburg had astonished the world.
One New Jersey veteran of the fighting wrote in 1888, "They exhibited to the world the sublime spectacle of a nation of free men determined that everyone within its borders should have that liberty which the Declaration of Independence had proclaimed to be the inalienable right of all men." Looking out over the semicircular rows of graves in the Gettysburg cemetery, Lincoln saw in those lives a transcendence that few people, then or now, had been willing to concede to democracy. And in that transcendence, Lincoln saw something that all Americans could borrow-- a renewed dedication to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that cause which the Bismarcks and the Leopolds feared and despised, that cause which the Heines and the Dickens had put down, that cause of popular self-government of the people, by the people, for the people. The sacrifice that was made there for that government was full not only of that transcendence, but also of that potential for future dedication. The genius of the address lay, therefore, not in its language or in its brevity, virtues though these were, but in its triumphant repudiation of the criticisms of democracy, in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy's follies.
It is worth remembering how central a position the address gives to those who fought here, because there is a fourth reason for the high esteem in which we hold the Gettysburg Address. And that is that the Union won the Civil War. The Gettysburg Address is a remarkably optimistic document. And not surprisingly, much of its optimism is drawn from the euphoria following the victories of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, which together gave Lincoln and the Union the happiest season they had enjoyed in the war since the early spring of 1862.
The successes of the summer of 1863 continued too, as Port Hudson surrendered after Vicksburg and opened the Mississippi to almost complete control by Union forces, followed by the nearly bloodless capture of the Confederate railhead at Chattanooga. And there were political victories as well against every prediction that summer. Anti-war Copperhead candidates for governor in Ohio and Pennsylvania were resoundingly defeated in the fall elections.
"The signs look better," Lincoln said. "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea. Peace does not appear so distant as it did. And with it would come proof," Lincoln said, "that democracies are not doomed to self-destruction, that their people will rise up in their defense no matter how common and ordinary the monarchs of Europe regard them, that among free men there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet." But that optimism turned out to be cruelly premature. There was much bloody work ahead in 1864 and 1865. And if it had not gone well, if Grant had not taken Richmond or Sherman not taken Atlanta or Farragut not closed off Mobile Bay and especially of Lincoln had not been re-elected, then the war would have turned to a very different conclusion with an independent southern Confederacy hugging the Gulf of Mexico and the south Atlantic strangling the Mississippi River Valley, spreading its imperialistic pro-slavery tentacles into the Caribbean and Central America while the northern Union shrank into a Scandinavian irrelevance.
In that case, the Gettysburg Address would not and could not have been hailed as acknowledging some great and stirring truth, but would instead stand as a piece of political huff and puff on behalf of a sinking cause. We see greatness in the address, but only because untold numbers of soldiers died to ensure that we could and because they kept on astonishing the world. Without that vindication in arms, the Gettysburg Address would have become little noted and not very long remembered. And the multitudes buried in the National Cemetery would literally have died in vain. And all of that middling terseness and meaning built into the address would have counted for nothing. In the end, the greatness of the Gettysburg Address rests not on what Lincoln said, but on what the soldiers did at Gettysburg and at every point thereafter.
The Gettysburg Address is, when reduced to its minimum, only the remarks of an American president spoken as the dedication of a National Cemetery. Unlike the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address cannot be taken into a court of law to prove anything. And it certainly did not, as the Proclamation did, set 3 million slaves legally and forever free. On that scale, it can sometimes seem that the Gettysburg Address is simply an example of something being well known for being well known. And it may be to avoid the phenomenon of empty celebrity that we fix on its vocabulary or its compactness as explanations for its high and enduring standing.
But it is really the meaning of the address which struck observers in 1863. That this has become dimmed in our celebrations of the address is partly due to its own success. We see the Civil War today as an issue in racial justice or as a critical moment in constitutional history, which is what leads us to wonder why slavery and the Constitution do not appear in the address. But the truth is that the address speaks to an issue which flew far above slavery or jurisprudence, the issue on which the resolution of our racial injustices and constitutional shortcomings all actually depended. And that was the survival of democracy itself, because what we intended to do about race or slavery or the Constitution would never come to pass at all if, as Bismarck hoped, democracy itself went down for the ten count.
Lincoln was not under any illusions that he could save democracy merely by his own rhetorical power, though. He was more right than we think when he said that the world would little note nor long remember what we say here, because all that was said that November day by himself and by Everett and by Thomas Stockton and the congressional chaplain and by Henry Bulgher, the college president, and by Benjamin French, the third-rate poet-- all of them rested on never forgetting what they did here. It was from them, not from his words, that the new birth of freedom would emerge.
Perhaps in the end, the greatness we have not suspected in the Gettysburg Address lies in its humility, in its reminder that the question of democracy's survival rested ultimately in the hands not of Czars, but in those of citizens, citizens who saw in democracy something worth dying for, something that kings or slave masters or bureaucrats or Georgetown cocktail parties could never understand. What we needed and got so memorably from Lincoln was precisely that reminder. We could use it again today. Perhaps we, too, could astonish the world. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much. We have two very talented and helpful assistants here who are prepared to brave the slings and arrows of question time. And the microphones that have been set up in the aisle, they will be happy to instruct you in the use of and guide you to. So if there are questions, now is the moment to approach the microphones and solicit the assistance of our assistants here. And one brave soul steps forward almost at once.
Really Really appreciate your effort. Can you please tell us whether or not the soldiers who were inducted to the army had any concept-- were they instructed in any concept of democracy?
ALLEN GUELZO: They had been instructed in large measure from the very first time they popped open a school book. American education in the 19th century-- and it has to be said that there was hardly a nation on the face of the earth in which elementary education was so uniformly spread across the face of a country as in the United States. Education in the 19th century was understood not as a preparation for work, not as STEM, not even as a Common Core. Education was understood as being one thing and one thing primarily. And that is the formation of citizens, so that what you were instructed in in school textbook after school textbook was the history and the civics and the structure of democracy.
Now we would look at it today and we would wonder well, what about chemistry lab? What about biology? And as soon as we would say that, a blank look would come over people from the 19th century. And they would say what-- is that important? Because democracy in the 19th century-- this is still a novelty, this idea that people can-- ordinary people can govern themselves. The most important thing that the school saw as their purpose was education for that kind of democracy.
So when you read the letters and diaries of the soldiers, they are filled with this sense of what is at stake, that what we are fighting for is a government of free people. And that theme runs through such an extraordinary number of these letters and papers. Very instructive short volume on this by James McPherson called For Cause and Comrades in which McPherson, reading through some 900 of these diaries and letter collections, pulls out how much the soldiers consciously understood that what was at stake was the survival of democracy, that if in the Civil War we blew it, if in the Civil War we demonstrated that democracies cannot enforce their own rules, then it was all up with democracy itself and you were going to have to put democracy into a museum somewhere and go out and find a king to rule you.
That is a theme which runs through all those letters and papers. And McPherson's book is a very good primer in understanding that. So this is a long way of saying yes, they did understand what this was about. And that was quite consciously what they understood themselves to be fighting for.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Was your address tonight given to us in vernacular, middling, or classical?
ALLEN GUELZO: Probably in hopelessly over-cluttered academic Sappho Laelia.
See, I'm one of those people like Everett. The five-syllable word comes too easily. Right. And this is a bad ha-- I've tried to find a 12-step process for it, but--
It's just too much too complicated, much too exogenous. You know what I mean?
AUDIENCE: I have two questions. First, was Lincoln waiting for the right moment to deliver this speech? Because-- could he have done it at Antietam? Could he have done it later after other battles? Or did he have these ideas sort of formulating around and then the right moment came along? And then second, would you talk a little bit about the follow-up? When did he know that it was going to take on mythic proportions?
ALLEN GUELZO: In the first case, he usually did think a long time in advance so that speeches that he gives or documents that he issues at a particular time have usually been molting in his mind for months beforehand. Certainly in the case of the Gettysburg Address, those offhand comments he makes on July 7 establish right away the parameters of his thinking that will come to maturity in November. So he is constantly thinking in long terms. He's constantly assembling. And then he's looking for the opportunity.
And Gettysburg seemed to him to be a particularly important opportunity, perhaps even more so than Antietam or other places, because Gettysburg occurs right around the 4th of July. And to him, the idea that this marvelous victory is won on the anniversary of independence, on the anniversary of that document which speaks about all men created equal-- to him, that was like a rainbow in the sky. It was the conjunction of the victory and that day all coming together which, for him, made Gettysburg very special.
And that is why in November, when the invitation to participate in the Gettysburg ceremonies arrives, he is very eager to follow up on this, much more eager than on other occasions, because curiously enough Lincoln rarely leaves Washington during the Civil War. For one thing, he is-- not to put too fine a point on it-- a workaholic. I mean, he was really one of these nose always to the grindstone types. But more than that, he rarely pulled himself away from Washington.
Coming to Gettysburg was actually significant just in itself. It underscored how special he thought Gettysburg was. And he will see the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery as the ideal moment to articulate these ideas. They've been building ever since the battle itself. But Gettysburg has already acquired for him a certain aura. And that is why he goes in November of 1863 and makes that the occasion of his comments.
The second question is, when does he realize he's done a real good thing. And the answer to that really lies in how many copies he makes of the Gettysburg Address afterwards. He actually writes out five versions of the Gettysburg Address. One of them is probably the one that he uses on the platform. But the other four are written subsequently.
And not only do these attest to the fact that people wanted copies of the Gettysburg Address in his handwriting. But it also attests to the importance he saw the Gettysburg Address having in its reception, that he would take the trouble to do that. It's the only document that Lincoln makes up in multiple copies this way, in his own handwriting. So I think that there's a sense-- even though he himself will never say it explicitly, I think by his actions manifest testimony that he understood that this had made a tremendous impact and was a very important statement of the principles for which the war was being waged.
AUDIENCE: Could you comment on the stories that Lincoln was suffering from smallpox as he gave that speech?
ALLEN GUELZO: Lincoln was indeed suffering from a mild version of smallpox called varioloid. And when he leaves Gettysburg late on the 19th of November, people remarked on him laying down on a bench on the train with a wet cloth over his forehead. This mushrooms into varioloid has him in bed for several weeks. He actually shaves his beard off, because the pustules from the pox are itchy and very annoying. And so the beard gets shaved. It's the one time during his presidency when that happens.
He actually has to have the cabinet come into his bedroom and meet while he's recovering from this, which did induce him to observe that since he was constantly being badgered by office holders or people who wanted to be office holders for appointments to political office, now he said, bring them in. I have something I can give everybody.
But he does recover from it, because it is a milder version of smallpox. It's not the potentially lethal version that in the middle of the 19th century still is a malevolent force to be reckoned with in medicine. But he does come down with that. It's one of the rare moments in his presidency when he is sick and in bed.
Lincoln actually is one of the sturdier, more vigorous presidents. He's younger than many of his predecessors, for one thing. Lincoln's family was one of the first in many years to have small children in the White House. So Lincoln is much more vigorous, healthy, and strong than most presidents before him. But even that is not resistance sufficient to the onset of varioloid. Yes?
AUDIENCE: When did the meaning of the address begin to diverge from the original meaning that Lincoln wanted to give it and that the citizenry of the Union understood?
ALLEN GUELZO: I think that is there almost from the very first when it appears in the newspapers and then when it gets picked up and within less than two years is being anthologized in the school textbooks for children to memorize. That's a significant movement in itself, that people recognize here that this Gettysburg Address is really saying something important, not just about the Battle of Gettysburg or even about the Civil War, but about democracy itself. So already it's become one of these core documents.
After Lincoln's death in 1865, one of his eulogists, George Boutwell, congressman from Massachusetts, said that Lincoln would be remembered for three documents-- the second inaugural, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Gettysburg Address. So within a very short period of time, people understand intuitively that what Lincoln has said at Gettysburg is really this sublime statement about dedication to democracy and the survivability, the viability of democracy when put to such a test. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Hi. You've spoken at length about why the Gettysburg Address is very memorable, obviously. But it sort of seems to me as though the Gettysburg Address is one of the few Union or northern pieces of-- well, really anything-- piece of the war that's a cultural touchstone and that most of the other things you remember, like Robert E. Lee, the Confederate battle flag-- why do you think that really the Confederates view of the war has dominated and why we really don't have the Gettysburg Address as really a Union touchdown? Because I can think of Birth of a Nation, but I can't think of an equivalent northern film, for instance.
ALLEN GUELZO: Well, bear in mind the Soldiers National Cemetery is a cemetery for the Union dead. They're not burying rebels there. People see the Civil War in 1863 not in this brother versus brother scenario, but they really see it as treason. And they see the Confederate flag, they see Robert E. Lee as treason-- people who had raised their hand against the national government and against their flag. So the soldiers who are entitled to be buried in the Soldiers National Cemetery are Union soldiers, fully a third of them unknowns.
So when Lincoln is speaking about those who here gave their lives, he's not talking in general. He's talking specifically about Union soldiers. As far as he was concerned, the Confederacy was a coup d'etat which had been pulled off at the expense of the ordinary southern people by a handful of wannabe aristocrats dressed up in Panama hats and mint juleps and trying to transfer the principles of aristocracy to the American context. And what they were doing was not just treason against the United States in technical terms, but they were actually trying to undermine and overthrow the very foundations of the American experiment-- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution. They had no regard for them whatsoever.
So Lincoln is not going to celebrate them. And it takes quite a while before you can persuade most Northerners to embrace Southerners as the erring sisters, who even in defeat still have to be regarded as defeated traitors. There is a certain romantic view of the post-war years as one in which Northerners and Southerners somehow agreed to forgive and forget. Well, some did and some tried to. But many others did not.
One of those who did not, curiously enough, was Robert E. Lee. Robert E. Lee, although publicly makes a great demonstration of his commitment to peace, never surrenders the idea that the Confederacy had been right. It had been right to secede. It had been right about slavery. And he went to his grave believing that the cause that he had fought for had failed only because Southerners had not rallied to it with sufficient enthusiasm.
So far from manifesting anything that could be looked upon as repentance, the defeated Confederates are going to do their very best to try to undo the victory which has been won by Union arms. And the tragedy of reconstruction is that they succeed. And as it turns out, reconstruction after war turns out to be a lot more difficult than people had envisioned or planned for-- a lesson, which it has to be said, we keep trying to learn without a whole lot of success, that reconstruction is not as easy as it looks. Regime change is not just a matter of snapping your fingers. And the first and best exhibit in evidence that way is what happened in our own reconstruction after the Civil War.
AUDIENCE: Your prior two answers lead to something that I've always wondered about President Lincoln. Did he consider himself, in his writings, a Midwesterner, a Kentuckian, an American? And did he ever speak about what I read may have been his southern grandfather on his mother's side?
ALLEN GUELZO: He was interested in genealogy. He was curious. When he was elected to Congress in 1848 and '49, when he sat in Congress, he corresponded with some members of the extended Lincoln family in Virginia, establishing oh yes, well you must be related to me through so and so and on like that. So he had some interest in where his family had come from. And he did from time to time speak of himself as a Kentuckian and a Westerner.
And yet he speaks much more often of himself as an American. He says, "I endeavor"-- this is on his journey from Springfield to Washington for inauguration. At Pittsburgh he gave a speech where he said, "I shall endeavor to be strictly national in all of my policies." Now what he's saying is I'm not going to favor one section at the expense of another section. I'm not going to favor one state at the expense of another state. I'm going to be strictly national in my priorities. And that becomes a really consistent theme for him.
Lincoln, after all, had for most of his adult political life been a member of the Whig party. And the Whig party was overwhelmingly the party devoted to national self-consciousness as opposed to sectional identities. The Whigs from Henry Clay onwards were committed to thinking of the United States as a unit, not just as a confederation of independent sovereignties. And that was the way Lincoln thought of things, too. So he would think of himself-- even as he acknowledged that he's born in Kentucky, well he's also raised in Indiana. And he spends his adult life in Illinois. He thinks of himself primarily as an American more than someone who is from a section.
There were those who disagreed with that. His political opponent from Ohio, Clement Vallandigham, spoke of himself as primarily a Westerner. And Vallandigham really hoped that the Civil War would result in a breakup of the Union that would see the New England and mid-Atlantic states be one nation, the Old North Western states be another nation, and the south be yet a third nation. And if they wanted to keep on splitting after that like so many political amoeba, more power to them. But that was the viewpoint of those who were opposed to Lincoln.
Lincoln sees himself as a nationalist even in 1865. When he sits down, and the only time he ever did offer to negotiate with the Confederates, he makes it clear that he is negotiating on behalf of our one common country, not as Jefferson Davis insisted to his commissioners, talking about peace between our two countries. Lincoln will have nothing of it. As far as Lincoln is concerned, the Confederacy is not a nation. There is, in fact, no such thing called the Confederacy.
If you look at Lincoln's documents, he goes out of his way to avoid using the term Confederacy or the terms Confederate States of America. Why? Because he believes secession is a legal and constitutional impossibility. Since it's a legal and constitutional impossibility-- talk about multi-syllable words. Since it is all those things, then there can't be a Confederate States of America. It can't exist.
And this is very strictly logical, almost scholastic reasoning. But that's his basic insistence, that what people call the Confederacy is really just an insurrection and that there has been no breakup of the Union, that the states that call themselves Confederate states are simply the victims of this insurrection. And that's the position he takes consistently all through the war. He is, in that respect, a nationalist.
AUDIENCE: How is the Gettysburg Address remembered in the southern states today?
ALLEN GUELZO: I caught-- I missed one word in what you were saying.
AUDIENCE: How is the Gettysburg Address remembered in the southern states today?
ALLEN GUELZO: That depends who you talk to in the southern states. I think by and large, over the 20th century, people in the southern states have embraced what happened in the Civil War. They've embraced Lincoln. They've embraced the Gettysburg Address. The Gettysburg Address shows up in school curriculums in the south fully as much as any other places that I'm aware of.
Now, I do meet from time to time, or I hear from by email from time to time, people of great wisdom who wish to instruct me in what the war was really about. The devil of temptation enters into me at moments like that. And I tend to respond not always in the kindly fashion, I'm afraid.
I remember I was at a Lincoln-related event in Richmond. There haven't been too many of those. But I was at this Lincoln-related event. This was an event which had been made notorious by the fact that there was an installation of a statue of Lincoln in Richmond at the Tredegar Museum. And at the dedication of that statue, a biplane flew over trailing a banner reading, "sic semper tyrannis." For those who are not initiates in the subject, those were the words uttered by John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln. So he said, sic semper tyrannis. OK. That kind of gave you an idea of what some people thought.
And then at this event that I was attending, across the street there were about a dozen representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans waving Confederate flags. Well, I probably shouldn't have done this. It wasn't a good thing. But I went across the street and had a conversation with them. They were telling me things like, Lincoln was worse than Stalin. Oh? So we had-- it was an interesting moment. A teachable moment, as they say.
So there are people who are holdouts to a certain degree. But I think there are far fewer of them than we might imagine from the way things are portrayed in popular culture or in magazines like that. When I go south, so to speak-- and understand, the Mason-Dixon line is only seven miles from Gettysburg College. But I have gone in many of the Southern states to Atlanta-- when I go to Atlanta, I ask to be taken to the General Sherman memorial. Just let that sink in. At the time of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, there was a cartoon, showed a picture of General Sherman-- a smirking General Sherman holding an Olympic torch. And the legend on it was "Atlanta's original torchbearer." I thought that was pretty good.
But yeah, I think there's less than animosity that way than we sometimes imagine. I hope so. I hope. Maybe they're just waiting to entrap me. I don't know. If I go south, make sure to keep a search party ready up here, OK? Yes.
AUDIENCE: Was there any significant echo of the address overseas in other countries at the time and later?
ALLEN GUELZO: Right. This is one of the more remarkable things, too, and that is the Gettysburg Address gets picked up in other countries. In 1865, it's reprinted in British magazines. And it embarks on a career being reprinted through Europe. And you find traces of the Gettysburg Address in so many different places.
Curiously enough, in 1911 when Sun Yat-sen proclaims the Chinese Republic, one of the foundation principles of the Chinese Republic is government of the people, by the people, for the people. The Constitution of the current French Republic also cites the language of the Gettysburg Address. So you can go around the world and find traces of the Gettysburg Address. And that began within two years of its original delivery. So it takes on an international flavor almost right from the beginning.
AUDIENCE: I had the opportunity to visit the battleground about a month ago. And I couldn't find a park ranger that could tell me where that picture-- where the stage was with respect to the monument in Soldiers Cemetery. I guess it's unclear. And could you give some comments about the state of construction of the monument itself? I don't think it was completed.
ALLEN GUELZO: No. No and the park rangers were not necessarily being reluctant or deceptive. There is some uncertainty as to where the speakers' platform was actually located at the time of the dedication ceremonies in November of 1863. Now, understand that the plus/minus on that location is about 20 feet. So the question is not boy, was it in this area code. No, it's a question of well, was at 20 feet this way or 20 feet that way.
People for a long time thought that the platform had been located where the Soldiers National Monument is today. But in all likelihood, that was where the flagpole was. That monument is not completed until 1869. The platform itself was probably about 20 yards to the east of the flagpole and butted up right against the boundary, maybe even lapped over the boundary of the Evergreen Cemetery by a little bit.
So we know reasonably close to where the platform is located. But we just don't have an exact location, because there's no plan that incorporated that from 1863. What we have are a handful of photographs. The problem is the photographs were taken at great distance. And the photographs themselves-- the perspective of the 19th century camera can alter what seems to be perfectly natural physical relationships, but the perspective of the camera can alter that. So you can't pinpoint it just from the photographs either.
So at the end of the day, you're left with this wiggle room. Is it 20 feet this way or is it 20 feet that way? Yes, there's uncertainty. Not that much uncertainty and not so much uncertainty that we can't point and say it was over there. And there really was a speaker's platform. And it was not one of those cases that the whole thing was staged behind a backdrop like people think the moon landing was.
AUDIENCE: So you think that he's facing north in this picture?
ALLEN GUELZO: In this picture, he should be facing more or less north or maybe northwest. This is a picture. This is not an attempt to give absolute historical verisimilitude. It's a nice picture, though.
AUDIENCE: Wasn't England essentially a constitutional monarchy at that time where people voted and they control their government? And if America-- if the North had lost the Civil War, wouldn't the English system have been an inspiration for other places in the world to develop democracy? In other words, it wouldn't have been such a disaster for the world if the Confederates won, because England was democratic--
ALLEN GUELZO: Well, understand that England in the 19th century while compared, for instance, let's say to the Prussian monarchy or to the imperial government and Napoleon the third-- while that would look like a much more Republicanized kind of monarchy, that's only by comparison with ultra forms of monarchy. Looked at on its own terms, England is still, in the 19th century, very much a class-oriented society. The House of Lords still has an active role to play in legislation. The members of the House of Commons are largely wealthy gentry. The members of the cabinet are mostly members of the nobility. And it is the nobility of England who are still running the show. And of course, it still has a queen.
It doesn't really have a constitution. We speak sometimes of Britain as being a constitutional monarchy. No, it's a monarchy. It doesn't have a constitution. It has large bodies of legal precedent. But it doesn't have anything that even closely resembles our constitution.
So was Britain prepared to pick up the banner of democracy? Not if you listen to the way the British describe things in the middle of the 19th century, not in fact if you listen to the way Americans describe Britain in the 19th century. From the American point of view, Britain was just as bad as all the other monarchies. It might be mitigated in one or two circumstances, but the mitigations were always capable of being overthrown.
So America as a democracy, it's unique. Americans understood that it was unique. And Lincoln in particular understood that if democracy failed-- in other words, if the Americans couldn't make democracy work, then nobody was going to be able to make it work. And whatever England represented was going to be sharply limited that way, because England would then become the outward limit of any kind of popular form of government. And that, in the 19th century, was really not saying too much.
AUDIENCE: First, thank you. The question I have is in your exploration and I'm going to call it relationship with Lincoln for a long period of time, do you sense that he intuited long before the final edition of the address was delivered that even within the populous of the United States then and there, there was alongside the formation that was taking place that you cited in elementary school a lurking desire for a monarch, a monarch messiah, precisely because of the messiness that accompanies an engaged citizenry?
ALLEN GUELZO: Well, sure. And Lincoln--
AUDIENCE: And I'm asking that question for your reflection now both then and there, your perception about then and there in Lincoln's consciousness, and how that also transfers to the here and now.
ALLEN GUELZO: Democracy is always messy. Democracy is inefficient. It is cumbersome. It is awkward. And from time to time, it is absolutely dead wrong, because you assume that the people-- ordinary people-- are capable of governing their own affairs. And there are moments when the behavior of those ordinary people in the governing of their own affairs just makes you shake your head. Just go to any school board meeting.
People are always telling me how terrible things are in Washington. Yeah, I know, they're terrible. Yeah, but you want to see them really bad? Just go to the next school board meeting. There's where you really see dysfunctional examples of this. And if you judged entirely by that, you would come away with exactly the conclusion Otto von Bismarck came away with, and that is what these people need is a good birch rod across their behinds. They have to be made to do the right thing. They won't arrive at it spontaneously.
Lincoln's point of view was very different. Lincoln has an almost sublime confidence in ordinary people being able to govern their own affairs. And he acknowledges yes, they make mistakes. But at the end of the day, in the long run, they do the right thing. And he exhorted people to trust in the wisdom of the people, because it has never ultimately gone wrong.
So his faith in democracy amounted to almost a kind of religious belief. It wasn't because he was blind to democracy's mistakes. It's because when democracy makes mistakes, it has the capacity to correct them. A monarch cannot correct his mistakes, because he can't admit he made them in the first place. Monarchy is about honor. Democracy is about humility.
And democratic regimes can make mistakes. They can make the wrong rules about who can vote, about who can earn a living, about who has rights and who doesn't. But the great thing is that a democracy can change its mind. And a monarch cannot. A monarchy cannot.
So yes, there are mistakes. But if you want to see really terrible mistakes, just look at the monarchs making them. And yes, it's nice when you get a wise, beneficent king ruling things. But just how often do you get that? Instead, what you usually get for kings and monarchs and emperors are these dimwits who drool out of the ends of their mouths because they've been interbred for too many generations. If that's what monarchy is, that'll send you fleeing for the exits.
So for Lincoln, democracy, for all of its blemishes, has this self-restorative power that nothing else has. And what's more, democracy also reflects a natural order of things. Monarchy is an artificial imposition of authority from the top down. It is like the old Aristotelian universe. But the Aristotelian universe went out the window with the scientific revolution of the 17th century with Galileo and with Newton, who understood that the physical laws of the universe work from the bottom up.
Well, democracy works from the bottom up, too. In that respect, Lincoln believed that democracy is simply the political equivalent of the natural order of things. So of course, it is as it should be. And of course democracy should be what we want. That doesn't mean that human beings always have the wisdom to embrace it. But that is-- democracy is written into the very warp and woof of human nature.
So armed with convictions like that, he could tolerate the follies. This is not to say that he didn't understand that there were people who yielded to disillusion and disenchantment and frustration and yearned for someone who would tell them what to do, who yearned for a band of experts to come and sort everything out for them and do it for people and get everybody in their place and a place for everybody. That's a constant problem that democracies face. Democracies are inefficient. They're clumsy. They're awkward. And the conclusion that some people draw from that is away with democracy, bring on the experts.
Well, heaven bless the experts. I'm supposed to be an expert. I guess I'm guilty of the crime. But I don't believe that experts do more than put their pants on one leg at a time in the morning. And someone who's an expert about one thing is not the person you want to change a tire. So you don't want them in control with that much power. Rather than a government by experts, you want a government of the people, by the people, for the people. And Lincoln understood that is a perennial challenge in democracy and is one we constantly have to face up to.
AUDIENCE: We talk these days about some people in the electorate voting against their economic self-interest. And you spoke about the Union soldier having a pretty good idea of what they were fighting for in terms of a national ideal. Would you please speak to what you think the southern soldiers saw themselves fighting for? Not the southern aristocracy, not the [INAUDIBLE] class, but the privates. Thank you.
ALLEN GUELZO: Well, the motivations of southern soldiers have been the subject of a number of books. One of the most telling is by Joseph Glatthar in which Glatthar, by running the numbers, lays out pretty clearly how important slavery was and the protection of slavery for the southern soldier. In the Army of Northern Virginia, nearly half of the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia were either slaveholders or came from slaveholding households. This was an army with a very big investment in slaveholding and in the white supremacy that rationalized slaveholding.
So what were Confederate soldiers fighting for? As usual with all soldiers, they're fighting for varieties of reasons. But for the protection and maintenance of slavery, you cannot deny that that is a significant component in what the armies of the Confederacy were fighting for. And there are people, of course, who are embarrassed by that and want to deny it. And they want to say, well the southern soldier was fighting for states' rights. Or the southern soldier was fighting about tariffs.
On don't know. I stand at the site of Pickett's Charge, at the angle. And one thing I am sure that General Armistead did not say when he crossed over that wall was, and take that for the tariff. I'm sorry, that just didn't happen. So when you look at the motivations of the southern soldier, yes, there's a number of things. But please do not discount the enormous importance that the protection of slavery held for the southern soldier.
AUDIENCE: You've spoken about Lincoln's-- and I think you used the word "sublime belief" in the people's ability to govern themselves. Perhaps you could also talk about what an impression, that I have at least from some of the books that have been written, about Lincoln's political go for the jugular. He certainly seemed, from some of the things that I've read, to be very much in control and very much interested in control and in managing and in taking advantage at every possible opportunity of what he could do to make the outcome be what he wanted.
ALLEN GUELZO: Well, I would have to say that if you're the President of the United States and you're combating an insurrection and your presidential oath charges you with protecting and defending the Constitution, then yeah. I would say you should do as much as you can to ensure the outcome of the war that way. Now does that mean that Lincoln did violence to constitutional principle? Well, it seems to me that that question gets answered in one easy way. And that is he runs for reelection.
If Lincoln really intended to be what some people have tried to suggest-- that he was a dictator, he was a tyrant, he was this, that, and the other-- then the shortest way to ensure his dictatorship would be to cancel elections in 1864 and declare a national emergency. But he doesn't. In fact, the idea never seems to have entered his head. And so he's going to run for re-election in 1864 against a very popular rival candidate, George B. McClellan. And he's going to take his chances.
And in August of 1864, those chances have begun to look very dim. And Lincoln has come to the point where he's just about concluded that he's going to lose. Even then, what never seems to occur to Lincoln is let's have a coup d'etat. Never once.
So he submits to the ultimate arbitrament of a democracy. And that is a popular election. He wins. He wins. But he was willing to take that risk because, as he put it afterwards, if we cancel the elections, we would be canceling the very principle we're fighting for. So I think that really is the acid test right there, the election of 1864.
AUDIENCE: But along those lines, do you think-- he's very committed to the democracy. But did he show any internal conflict when he had to do things like suspend habeas corpus or with the stroke of a pen emancipate the slaves-- all good, but maybe doing it unilaterally instead of democratically. Did he show some conflict? Some inner--
ALLEN GUELZO: Well, I would be the last to suggest that Lincoln did not make mistakes. After all, he's not coming into office with a sterling political resume. I mean, he had never been the mayor of Springfield. He'd never been the governor of Illinois. He'd never been in an executive office. He really comes into this cold. He does make mistakes.
He makes mistakes politically. He makes mistakes in terms of military judgment. Look at some of the generals he turns to. But at the same time as he makes mistakes, he also has a tremendous amount of resilience. He learns from the mistakes.
AUDIENCE: So he's emulating democracy also--
ALLEN GUELZO: Yeah. I mean, in that respect, he's an embodiment of it. Yeah. That's true. That's true. Well, Charles, are we coming now down to-- all right? Yes? All right. Well--
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Abraham Lincoln's 272-word dedication at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863 is remembered as one of the most important speeches in history. Allen C. Guelzo, the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era and the director of the Civil War Era Program at Gettysburg College, examined the elements that help to make the Gettysburg Address so memorable, July 30, 2014, as part of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions summer lecture series.