Gettysburg Address Was Short, Entirely Too Sweet

Chuck Thompson argues that the masterpiece of rhetoric missed its chance
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 19, 2013 1:38 PM CST
Gettysburg Address Was Short, Entirely Too Sweet
James Getty, portraying President Abraham Lincoln, stands before a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Nov. 19, 2013, in Gettysburg, Pa.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, perhaps the most famous and vaunted speech an American president has ever delivered. It's revered for Abraham Lincoln's force, clarity, and brevity—it's only 278 words, David Kusnet at CNN points out, and it uses mostly one- and two-syllable words. "The lesson is clear: To express big ideas, use few words," he writes, and it's a lesson that resonates in our modern Twitter-obsessed world. Indeed, presidents throughout history have strove to ape Lincoln's spare style, with tweetable results; Lincoln devotee John F. Kennedy's famous "Ask not..." line is just 78 characters long.

But for all its rhetorical brilliance, Chuck Thompson at Politico has a bone to pick with the address: It's too nice. "The speech remains eternally inspiring for the way Lincoln refrained from laying explicit blame at the feet" of the embittered confederacy, Thompson argues. By "sidestepping all that rage," he also "sidestepped the lessons of Gettysburg." While Lincoln surely meant that it was Northern troops who "shall not have died in vain," the South took it to heart too—today, you can find monuments there with inscriptions like, "They gave their lives in a just and holy cause." (That one found in the liberal university town of Oxford, Miss.) Lincoln didn't make the South acknowledge its mistakes—and it never has, fostering a bitter divide that haunts our politics to this day. Click for Kusnet's full column, or for Thompson's full column. (Read more Gettysburg stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.