Essential Pittsburgh
3:36 pm
Tue November 19, 2013

When "Silly Remarks" Become Landmarks: The Gettysburg Address 150 Years Later

An 1863 daguerreotype of Lincoln, at the time of the Gettysburg Address. He was 54 years old.
An 1863 daguerreotype of Lincoln, at the time of the Gettysburg Address. He was 54 years old.
Credit Alexander Gardner / Wikipedia

150 years ago President Abraham Lincoln stood in Gettysburg, PA, at the site of one of the most important battles of the American Civil War to consecrate a cemetery for those who died for the Union cause. Lincoln’s speech was brief but had a lasting historical impact.

In the new book titled, The Greatest Speech Ever: The Remarkable Story of Abraham Lincoln and His Gettysburg Address, Judge James L. Cotton, Jr. looks at the influence Lincoln's famous words.

“The Gettysburg Address has just as much meaning and relevance today as it did 150 years ago,” says Cotton.

But he says the address received little appreciation in Lincoln’s lifetime.

The Retraction Heard 'Round the World

"We pass over the silly remarks of the President. 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."

This quote was part of a scathing review printed in 1863 in the then-Harrisburg Patriot & Union newspaper, critiquing President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

150 years later, editors at the Patriot News have issued a retraction for the words of their predecessors. Opinion Editor John Micek says employees of the paper all knew the 1863 review existed, but for the anniversary some at the paper wanted to actually find the “offending bit of microfilm.”

“We all knew we canned it, we just didn’t know we had canned it so enthusiastically,” Micek explains.

He says the retraction was a collaborative idea in which all writers eventually decided on a more lighthearted approach for the 2013 article. The publication has garnered worldwide attention, including a spoof on Saturday Night Live