|Plaque of the Gettysburg Address, Gettysburg National Cemetery, photo by Andrew Tremel|
|November 19, 2011 wreath laying at Soldiers' National Monument, Gettysburg National Cemetery, taken by Andrew Tremel|
Before I continue, I want to dedicate this blog entry to the memory of Tony Zusman, a coworker, historian, Civil War re-enactor, fellow fact of the day junkie, and friend. Every day at work, he provided a sheet with various "facts of the day," always highlighting something with Elvis. I always appreciated references to Mel Brooks' greatest works, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. One of his last sheets featured the birthday of Hedy (not Headly) Lamar. Tony was always positive, upbeat, caring. I can't say enough good things about the guy, and I can't express how much me and my coworkers will miss him. I couldn't find an event related to pop culture that I knew enough to blog about. Hopefully he'd be okay with me blogging about the president of the Union, as Tony was a Confederate re-enactor and long time officer in Longstreet's Corps. Requiescat in pacem, Tony.
I've actually had this particular entry in mind since I started the blog. The Gettysburg Address is Lincoln's most famous speech. It's even etched into the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. At least when I was in school (hopefully still, but I doubt it), we had to memorize Lincoln's immortal words. The speech defined the meaning of the war:
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
As great of a speech it was--one of the best in American history--I consider it to be Lincoln's second best speech. If it weren't for a speech he delivered more than three years earlier, Lincoln never would have had the chance to speak at the dedication of Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg. The speech that I consider Lincoln's best is what he delivered at the Cooper Institute in New York City on February 27, 1860. It became known as the Cooper Union speech, about which Harold Holzer wrote an excellent book, titled Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Abraham Lincoln President.
Invited to speak in New York, Lincoln took full advantage of the situation and it was a make-or-break moment in his rise to the presidency (this was Lincoln's East Coast debut). Lincoln earned some national attention because of his performance in the famed debates with Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas in 1858. Douglas was once again Lincoln's target in his Cooper Union address. Douglas had made the claim that the Founding Fathers supported the idea of popular sovereignty--that residents of a territory could decide the slavery question for themselves. Wrong, Lincoln argued in his hour long address. A slow, serious, and methodical researcher, Lincoln cited the congressional votes of signers of the Constitution on the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Missouri Compromise, and other measures that prohibited slavery in new territories. He denounced John Brown's raid on Harpers' Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) and said if the South resorted to secession, the blame for disunion would rest squarely upon their shoulders. But Lincoln showed that the Republican Party's idea of barring slavery in the territories was in line with the Founders' thoughts on expansion. The Dred Scott decision and Douglas's "popular sovereignty" were a break with political and legal tradition.
He concluded emphatically, "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."
This speech likely remained in the minds of delegates in Chicago at the Republican Convention that May. Thanks to capable floor managers, Lincoln clinched the nomination and led the nation through the Civil War. If you have a free 90 minutes check out Sam Waterson recreate Lincoln's delivery on C-SPAN's website. Or, if you don't, you can read it at your leisure, here. But take a moment this weekend--look at Cooper Union or the Gettysburg Address and remember the sacrifice of those who fought in the Civil War and those who protect our Union today.