Note on the Gettysburg Address

On this date in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/)

My cousin Linda taught high school English. During a discussion years ago she said, “The Gettysburg Address is the greatest speech ever delivered.” I scoffed, and ridiculed the thing, which shocked her. “You have been taught to say that, Linda,” I said. “Have you ever thought about what it says.”

In his “Note on the Gettysburg Address” H.L. Mencken wrote, “The Gettysburg speech was at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history…the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination – that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves.”

The Legendary Georgia Ironman recently mentioned some of the parents of the Indian children he teaches have asked him why Southern people still harbor ill feelings about a war fought 150 years ago. LM Brian McCarthy moved to south Georgia to teach high school and mentioned something about all the monuments in the small town, something one does not see in yankee land. Some years ago I was at the Highland coffee shop on Bardstown road in Lousiville, Kentucky. During a discussion of the War of Northern Aggression one fellow used the term “we” and it dawned on me that the “we” he meant were the perpetrators of the War Between the States. I mentioned that, being from Georgia, this was the first time I had heard “we” meaning yankees. “You lost. We won. Get over it,” he said. I said, “It is somewhat more difficult to “get over it, sir, when you lose.” He fired back with, “Tough shit!”

A few weeks ago I attended a lecture given by the eminent historian James M. McPherson pertaining to his new book, “Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief.” (http://www.booktv.org/Program/16323/After+Words+James+McPherson+quotEmbattled+Rebel+Jefferson+Davis+as+Commander+in+Chiefquot+hosted+by+James+Swanson.aspx) At the end the author, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, “Battle Cry of Freedom,” took questions from the audience. I was standing on the balcony, where I had been conversing with one of the owners of the Eagle Eye bookstore (http://www.eagleeyebooks.com/), so there was little, if any, chance Mr. McPherson could see my raised hand if I had been inclined to ask a question. When he said, “No state has ever had the right to secede,” I was unable to contain myself and blurted, “How can you say such a thing when the right of secession was taught at West Point until the War of Northern Aggression?!” In response to my question the audience roared with approval. The author answered by saying, “I am not aware of that. I have never read that. Can you tell me where you come by your information?” I responded, “It is historical fact, sir. I have read it in many books, including ‘The Real Lincoln,’ by Thomas J. DiLorenzo.” He said only, “That is a discredited book.” I was the first in line to have my book signed and said, “One can learn much by reading everything about a subject in lieu of only reading one version of events.” He looked at me quizzically before signing my book. I added, “You know, Mr. McPherson, I was raised near an Army base named after the yankee General James Birdseye McPherson.” He smiled while handing the signed book to me, but the smile left his face when I said, “Everyone hated the place because it was named after a yankee General, even relatives who worked there. He was killed at the Battle of Atlanta you know. He was the second highest ranking yankee officer killed in the War of Northern Aggression.” He frowned and I smiled when turning to leave. Many of the older men in line stopped me to shake my hand, wanting to talk, but Brian McCarthy was waiting to take me to the Fortress so I made apologies and headed toward the door.

Having been lied to about the causes of the war has not helped Southerner’s “get over it.” The yankee version of history is that they had the “moral” right because slavery, brought to America by these same yankees, was morally wrong. They are correct in this, because slavery is wrong, but it was the law. Should a war which devastated the country have been fought to end slavery, or was there much more to the war than the simplistic reason given?

“Growing up in the US, I too was “educated” (through government-purchased school-books and popular media) to revere Mr. Lincoln as a wise and marvelous president. Later, I ran across quotations of his that seemed to cast suspicion on his real views regarding the institution of slavery. I dismissed these as simply a reflection of the times. Lincoln, I reasoned, as a politician needed to keep peace with constituents in order to pursue a praiseworthy agenda. I was wrong about the agenda.”

“Reading below you will understand that the US Civil War finally resolved a century-old debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists. It was resolved violently by Lincoln and accompanied by the death of more than 600,000 countrymen.”

“Slavery was ended in 1866 with the Thirteenth Amendment, but at the cost of 620,000 lives; hundreds of thousands more that were crippled for life; and the near destruction of almost half the nation’s economy. By contrast, dozens of other countries (including Argentina, Colombia, Chile, all of Central America, Mexico, Bolivia, Uruguay, the French and Danish colonies, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela) ended slavery peacefully during the first 60 years of the nineteenth century. Why not the U.S.?” *
* Thomas J. DiLorenzo
(http://www.bigeye.com/abraham_lincoln.htm)

In “honor” of the date I would like to present a Southern response to the address Dishonest Abe gave 150 years ago today:

Ode to the Confederate Dead
Allen Tate, 1899 – 1979

Row after row with strict impunity
The headstones yield their names to the element,
The wind whirrs without recollection;
In the riven troughs the splayed leaves
Pile up, of nature the casual sacrament
To the seasonal eternity of death;
Then driven by the fierce scrutiny
Of heaven to their election in the vast breath,
They sough the rumour of mortality.

Autumn is desolation in the plot
Of a thousand acres where these memories grow
From the inexhaustible bodies that are not
Dead, but feed the grass row after rich row.
Think of the autumns that have come and gone!–
Ambitious November with the humors of the year,
With a particular zeal for every slab,
Staining the uncomfortable angels that rot
On the slabs, a wing chipped here, an arm there:
The brute curiosity of an angel’s stare
Turns you, like them, to stone,
Transforms the heaving air
Till plunged to a heavier world below
You shift your sea-space blindly
Heaving, turning like the blind crab.

Dazed by the wind, only the wind
The leaves flying, plunge

You know who have waited by the wall
The twilight certainty of an animal,
Those midnight restitutions of the blood
You know–the immitigable pines, the smoky frieze
Of the sky, the sudden call: you know the rage,
The cold pool left by the mounting flood,
Of muted Zeno and Parmenides.
You who have waited for the angry resolution
Of those desires that should be yours tomorrow,
You know the unimportant shrift of death
And praise the vision
And praise the arrogant circumstance
Of those who fall
Rank upon rank, hurried beyond decision–
Here by the sagging gate, stopped by the wall.

Seeing, seeing only the leaves
Flying, plunge and expire

Turn your eyes to the immoderate past,
Turn to the inscrutable infantry rising
Demons out of the earth they will not last.
Stonewall, Stonewall, and the sunken fields of hemp,
Shiloh, Antietam, Malvern Hill, Bull Run.
Lost in that orient of the thick and fast
You will curse the setting sun.

Cursing only the leaves crying
Like an old man in a storm

You hear the shout, the crazy hemlocks point
With troubled fingers to the silence which
Smothers you, a mummy, in time.

The hound bitch
Toothless and dying, in a musty cellar
Hears the wind only.

Now that the salt of their blood
Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea,
Seals the malignant purity of the flood,
What shall we who count our days and bow
Our heads with a commemorial woe
In the ribboned coats of grim felicity,
What shall we say of the bones, unclean,
Whose verdurous anonymity will grow?
The ragged arms, the ragged heads and eyes
Lost in these acres of the insane green?
The gray lean spiders come, they come and go;
In a tangle of willows without light
The singular screech-owl’s tight
Invisible lyric seeds the mind
With the furious murmur of their chivalry.

We shall say only the leaves
Flying, plunge and expire

We shall say only the leaves whispering
In the improbable mist of nightfall
That flies on multiple wing:
Night is the beginning and the end
And in between the ends of distraction
Waits mute speculation, the patient curse
That stones the eyes, or like the jaguar leaps
For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim.

What shall we say who have knowledge
Carried to the heart? Shall we take the act
To the grave? Shall we, more hopeful, set up the grave
In the house? The ravenous grave?

Leave now
The shut gate and the decomposing wall:
The gentle serpent, green in the mulberry bush,
Riots with his tongue through the hush–
Sentinel of the grave who counts us all!
http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/ode-confederate-dead

Advertisements

One thought on “Note on the Gettysburg Address

  1. Chesster Chess says:

    Hell yeah!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s