Published November 17, 2013
When it comes to correcting the record about a timeless speech, no retraction is too late.
One-hundred and fifty years after Abraham Lincoln passionately appealed for the preservation of the union in the Gettysburg Address, the Patriot-News of central Pennsylvania, known back then as the Patriot & Union, is retreating from its stance in 1863 that Abe’s Civil War speech was “silly.”
“In an editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance,” the paper wrote on its editorial page Thursday. “The Patriot-News regrets the error.”
The address and its history, of course, have long since been woven into the fable of American history. An appeal for the preservation of the union and a plea that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth, Lincoln’s timeless words were delivered at a commemoration for a cemetery honoring the nearly 8,000 men killed at the July 1863 battle. The speech would become venerated not only for its elocution and purpose, but for its connection to the crucial battle, which marked the south’s last incursion into northern territory for the remainder of the war.
But the Patriot & Union, a “Copperhead” newspaper in the 1860s, vigorously supported the Democratic Party and, the newspaper says, was still seething after several top editors were arrested and jailed a year earlier by Union troops for suspicion of sedition.
Add in a looming election the following year, and you have an editorial board that wasn’t eager to sing the president’s praises.
“We pass over the silly remarks of the president,” the paper wrote five days after the battle. “For the credit of the nation, we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”
History, quite apparently, thought otherwise, and the 1863 quote became something of an urban myth around the paper, John L. Micek, the paper’s opinion page editor, told FoxNews.com.
“This was something we could not let stand,” he said.
So as the address’s 150th anniversary approached, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Zencey headed down to the State Library of Pennsylvania at Harrisburg, where he examined microfilm of the infamous editorial. The story was not only the subject of Thursday’s retraction, but a 2,200-word article detailing the history surrounding the editorial.
The package has received mostly supportive comments online, and its been spreading on social media, Zencey said.
Now that the 1863 editorial has been cleared up, would today’s Patriot-News editorial board endorse Lincoln if he was running for president in modern times?
“We’d have to have him in for an interview,” Micek said, laughing. “I’m kidding. I’m sure we would.”