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Gettysburg Address

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Two weeks ago I happened to turn on a campaign rally where President Trump was speaking. As usual, he talked about “fake news” and made a statement that I knew would be criticized by historians.

He said, “You know when Abraham Lincoln made the Gettysburg Address speech, the great speech, you know he was ridiculed.” The point he was making is that there was “fake news” then so we shouldn’t be surprised we have it today. He then went on to remind everyone that Lincoln’s speech was revered years later and believed that would happen to him.

Let’s ignore Donald Trump’s comparison to Abraham Lincoln so that we can focus on an important historical point. How was Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address received at the time?

Generally the northern newspapers were favorable to Lincoln’s speech, while the southern newspapers predictably attacked it. But even looking at the northern papers, you get a bit of a mixed reaction.

Writers doing a fact check on Lincoln’s speech reminded us of two different reactions in Chicago newspapers to the Gettysburg Address. The Chicago Times suggested that, “the cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dish-watery utterances.”  By contrast, the Chicago Tribune praised the speech and believed it “will live among the annals of man.”

Some of the social media criticism of Donald Trump’s statement about the media reaction to the Gettysburg Address cited the New York Times news story. However, if you read the story, the author merely mentions that Lincoln spoke “in a very deliberate manner” and doesn’t praise the speech. In fact, in a previous sentence, the story describes the prayer of Reverend Stockton as “touching and beautiful.” Nothing like that is attached to Lincoln’s speech.

So it is fair to say that President Trump was at least half right. Some newspapers (the so-called “fake news” of the day) attacked the speech. But others also praised it.

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