Ethics Quote Of The Day (And For All Time): Abraham Lincoln [Missing Post Section Recovered!]

On this date in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln added a vital coda to the United States mission statement articulated in the Declaration of Independence nearly a hundred years earlier. Gary Wills, among other historians and commentators, has argued that with this single speech Lincoln reframed the purpose of the American experiment as well as clarifying its core values. Those values, it is fair to say, are today under the greatest threat since the Civil War today. Lincoln’s address lasted just two or three minutes (it was not even announced beforehand as a speech, but rather “remarks”), but also reframed the purpose of the war itself, as not only to preserve the union, but a struggle for freedom and equality for all.

There has been so much written about the Gettysburg Address that it would be irresponsible for me to attempt to analyze it here. It probably isn’t necessary to analyze the speech. Few statements speak more clearly for themselves: if ever a speech embodied the principle of res ipsa loquitur, this is it:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation 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.

The performance of the speech you hear in the recording above was that of the great British actor Charles Laughton, who became America’s unofficial Gettysburg Address specialist after his stirring and ironic rendition of the speech in the film, “Ruggles of Red Gap.” Unfortunately no embeddable video of that moment survives on the web, except one with French subtitles that I couldn’t bear.

In a Wild West saloon, reference is made to “what Lincoln said at Gettysburg,” and all the cowboys ask each other, “What did Lincoln say at Gettysburg?” Then, quietly, unexpectedly, Ruggles the English butler (Laughton), the only foreign-born man in the room, stands and recites the speech from memory as the Americans listen in awe. When the film was first shown in 1935, audiences frequently stood and applauded after Laughton finished. At that point in our history, Lincoln’s words had faded from memory; amazingly, the film itself, an unassuming “fish out of water” comedy, caused the Address to regain its proper stature, and  to be more widely known and quoted.

It may be time for a remake. Abraham Lincoln was among our nation’s indispensable leaders whose statues were toppled in the midst of the George Floyd Freakout and its sibling, The Great Stupid. I wonder how many Americans today know, much less appreciate, “what Lincoln said at Gettysburg”?

15 thoughts on “Ethics Quote Of The Day (And For All Time): Abraham Lincoln [Missing Post Section Recovered!]

  1. Even though I’m not much on history, I’m very familiar with that speech. I’ve never grown tired of reading it whenever I encounter it. It is a masterpiece.

          • Perhaps something is missing from the post? I don’t see any reference to “Ruggles of Red Gap” or Charles Laughton other than the post #tags. Or, maybe I was supposed to get the connection from the tags, but, I rarely read the tags at the end of a post. Anyway, I get it now.

            • Holy Crap! You’re right, Edward! ! The whole section before the last paragraph disappeared, and I’m looking at it right now in my draft!

              I am going to snap, go berserk, and track down the assholes who messed with the WordPress editor and feed them to eels!! I can’t trust the damn thing! I had to try three times to add the section back and it wouldn’t take until I cut out everything and started from scratch.

              I apologize for this whole exchange. I really thought you hadn’t read the post!

    • If we thought partisanship is a new thing and only attributable to Trump’s tenure, there’s this from the above article:

      7. Did everyone love the speech after Lincoln gave it?

      Everett certainly liked it and he told Lincoln, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Pro-Union newspapers praised it.

      The speech was interrupted by applause, but how much applause and when it happened is still a subject of debate. But Democrats quickly criticized the speech, since they were Lincoln’s avowed opponents north of the Mason-Dixon line. A correspondent for the Times of London called the speech “dull and commonplace.” The Chicago Times claimed Lincoln insulted the fallen soldiers the ceremony was supposed to honor. Another critic, a Harrisburg newspaper, had harsher comments (and just apologized for them in 2013).

  2. I sadly come to the conclusion that about half of the population of this country do actually want a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ to perish from this earth. They are elitists and they can’t stand someone beneath them running the country. This is the BIG problem with Trump. He is too coarse, too brash, and not polished enough (all things people complained about in Lincoln as well). In other words, he is a lower-class billionaire and they can’t stand it. In my lifetime, Democrats have always been elitist. They are the ones who fawn over the British Royal Family and wanted us to have one in the Kennedys. That is why people like Gov. Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, Lori Lightfood, J.B. Pritzger, and Gretchen Whitmer put in place draconian shutdown orders and then violate those orders themselves. They view themselves as the elite, above the common people and their followers agree that the laws are just for the common people. That is why Hillary Clinton can violate the law with impunity and her followers don’t care, they are idolizing one of the elite.

    The plan is almost complete. With the destruction of the public school systems, there is a clear distinction between the elites and the commons. Common people will have no ability to challenge the elite without access to a quality education. Public school will be only about indoctrinating the common people to follow the elites (trust the experts). The only thing that stood in the way of this was Trump, that is why they were so violent about removing him and why their supporters hate him so.

    • “ With the destruction of the public school systems, there is a clear distinction between the elites and the commons. Common people will have no ability to challenge the elite without access to a quality education.”
      I think you would be amazed at how many are choosing to homeschool and forego public education entirely. There is hope, homeschoolers tend to be better educated and that school choice is growing by the day. Will they continue? I’m guessing no one knows that, but the more the government locks down, the more people pull their kids.

  3. Strangely enough I got a new appreciation for it when I learned it in another language. The language is simple and fairly free of period specific terms. I don’t think many have thought about this speech since middle school, if they ever had to. It’s clear too many don’t understand the interwoven protections of the Bill of Rights, just because some phrases are archaic now. I cannot fathom why the Dems, who used to be ones screaming for the BoR protections are destroying them now.

    Big Brother, the nutty computer that ran the world in the old Paranoia RPG WAS a satire, where the citizens were so disposable you were a six pack of clones with a very short lifespan. Usually killed by ignorance and incompetence. Didn’t they get the memos and assignments to know to avoid these things?

  4. Absolutely perhaps the greatest speech ever made here in the western hemisphere.

    Last night, I had the chance to see some great speeches by another great western leader. I finally decided to get a DVD for ‘Darkest Hour’ and watched it last night. I already had an extremely high opinion of Churchill, but if the film is anywhere near accurate, it is doubly amazing what he had to deal with in the weeks leading up to Dunkirk.

    Gary Oldman is superb as Churchill, and I bet I watched the speech ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ at least 5 times. It just never gets old. An amazing leader, certainly on a par with Lincoln.

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