Timeless Message

IT’S DIFFICULT for an individual to admit being wrong, but people can’t wait as long a Pennsylvania newspaper did to admit it was incorrect in an editorial written 150 years ago.

The Patriot-News of Harrisburg in November 1863 described President Abraham Lincoln’s speech at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg as containing “silly remarks” deserving a “veil of oblivion.”

Lincoln gave his speech 150 years ago Tuesday, and the newspaper notes that it regrets the error of not seeing its “momentous importance, timeless eloquence and lasting significance.”

EDWARD Everett, a former ambassador, member of Congress and governor, was the main speaker at the cemetery dedication, and his speech lasted more than two hours. In contrast, Lincoln spoke for two minutes during that solemn occasion.

The president had been asked to make “a few appropriate remarks” at the dedication.

Little did Lincoln or others realize how memorable his speech would be, because he did make one mistake in that address when he said, “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

He was unaware that his speech would be termed as unsurpassed in history or that generations of schoolchildren would have to memorize his 10 sentences containing approximately 270 words.

The war dead were being remembered during the dedication a few months after the battle which occurred July 1-3. Those attending undoubtedly were relieved that the area no longer was affected by the stench of death, which reportedly lasted from July until the first frost. Not only did approximately 51,112 persons die there, but some of their soldiers’ horses also were killed.

Although not everyone recognized the importance of Lincoln’s speech, Everett two days after the dedication wrote to Lincoln, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.

WITH ALL the divergent views and problems currently facing our nation, it would be good to remember and follow through with Lincoln’s timeless message – “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”