November 19, 1863 – Today the Gettysburg Address was delivered

But you say you are conservative – eminently conservative – while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was adopted by “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live;” while you with one accord reject, and scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new. True, you disagree among yourselves as to what that substitute shall be. You are divided on new propositions and plans, but you are unanimous in rejecting and denouncing the old policy of the fathers. Some of you are for reviving the foreign slave trade; some for a Congressional Slave-Code for the Territories; some for Congress forbidding the Territories to prohibit Slavery within their limits; some for maintaining Slavery in the Territories through the judiciary; some for the “gur-reat pur-rinciple” that “if one man would enslave another, no third man should object,” fantastically called “Popular Sovereignty;” but never a man among you is in favor of federal prohibition of slavery in federal territories, according to the practice of “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live.” Not one of all your various plans can show a precedent or an advocate in the century within which our Government originated. Consider, then, whether your claim of conservatism for yourselves, and your charge or destructiveness against us, are based on the most clear and stable foundations.

– Abraham Lincoln, from “Cooper Union Speech”

A few links for your consideration:

The only known photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg the day of the address, courtesy of the Library of Congress (if that link doesn’t work, try this)

This blog hasn’t covered as much of Lincoln’s writings as I would like, but there’s a copy and analysis of the Gettysburg Address you may want to look at. There’s also an analysis of the Second Inaugural; Glen Thurow argues that the Address and the Second Inaugural have to be considered together.

A fragment of a speech describing the Republican Party is a short read, and should be of tremendous interest to all partisans today.

Other things by Lincoln you may want to look at, not covered by this blog (or only indirectly): Lyceum Speech, Temperance Speech, House Divided, Cooper Union.


  1. I memorized the Gettysburg Address when I was a kid growing up in the public schools of Tennessee and assumed the things it said were true. That’s when I was a child.

    Looking back, from the perspective of having studied American history for more than sixty years, I realize how false Lincoln’s speech really was. Dishonest Abe Lincoln was a master of political spin, whose words were the polar opposite of his deeds. Government of the people, by the people and for the people was exactly the thing he was trying to crush in his unconstitutional and brutal attack on the Confederate nation.

    Lincoln’s words are a mockery when one considers that he held 13,000 northern political prisoners, without trial or due process of law – just because they disagreed with his illegal war.

    Famous American writer H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), said of the Gettysburg Address: “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.”

  2. @ J. Stephen Conn: You are right about one thing: if we take the South’s self-determination to be their self-interest, one could not doubt that the South considered any one thing more holy than that interest.

    I’m pretty sick of hearing about the “War of Northern Aggression,” considering that the Jefferson Davis was ‘inaugurated’ before Lincoln ever set foot in office, and the first seven states made their secession in April of 1860.

    And at any rate, let’s talk just a little bit about “self-determination.” How about the Fugitive Slave Act? What was that, but the thrusting of Southern interest upon all citizens Northern and otherwise, who were in effect turned into dog-catchers catching human beings? Recall incidents such as President Pierce’s letting loose of federal troops to catch runaway slaves in Boston; the list goes on and on.

  3. Excellent timing, Ashok. I’m currently reading Team of Rivals – Stanton has just been made War Secretary. It has been most enlightening to read about the origins of the Republican party.

    I will finish the book and return to your post.
    .-= Ahsan´s last blog ..Notes on Public Desire =-.

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