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Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

The Political War

Allen C. Guelzo

The New York Times  June 5, 2014

A Union artillery battery at Cold Harbor. Library of <Congress

A Union artillery battery at Cold Harbor. Library of <Congress

Pity Abraham Lincoln. Everything that should have gone right for the Union cause in the spring of 1864 had, in just a few weeks, gone defiantly and disastrously wrong.

For two years, the 16th president had toiled uphill against the secession of the Confederate states, against the incompetence of his luckless generals and against his howling critics from both sides of the congressional aisle. Finally, in the summer and fall of 1863, the course of the war had begun to turn his way. Two great victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg staggered the Confederates, and those were followed by a knockdown blow delivered at Chattanooga by the man who was fast becoming Lincoln’s favorite general, Ulysses S. Grant. “The signs look better,” Lincoln rejoiced, “Peace does not appear so distant as it did.”

Peace was not the only thing that would be brought closer by victory. The presidential election of 1864 was looming, and if Lincoln had any desire for a second term, a victorious end to the war was the surest way to secure it. He had never seriously considered taking what appeared to some people as an obvious shortcut to remaining in office – declaring the war to be a national emergency and suspending elections for the duration, though two Union governors, in Indiana and Illinois, had done what amounted to that on the state level. That only made the need for military victory all the more urgent, and so Lincoln installed Grant as general in chief of all the Union armies in March 1864, and Grant obliged him with a comprehensive strategic plan that united Union assaults in Georgia, Alabama and, under his own direct command, in Virginia.

None of it worked, and the place where it seemed to work the least was under Grant’s own nose. Crossing the Rapidan River on May 4, 1864, Grant’s army entered at once into a series of head-to-head contests with Robert E. Lee’s fabled Army of Northern Virginia. Fighting three pitched battles – at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and the North Anna River – and enduring numerous smaller collisions, Grant worked his way down toward the Confederate capital at Richmond, which he got within 10 miles of by the end of the month. But the fighting had cost a colossal total of 40,000 dead, wounded and missing, and Lincoln gloomily understood that the Northern public “hold me responsible.”

They weren’t the only ones. Radicals within Lincoln’s own Republican Party in Congress had long been convinced that Lincoln’s preference for a soft postwar Reconstruction was dis-heartening the Republican base. They were further angered when the Republican national committee, headed by Lincoln’s ally Edwin D. Morgan, met in late February 1864 and announced that the party would hold its presidential nominating convention in Baltimore in June, not as “Republicans,” but as the “National Union Convention.” As Grant’s campaign in Virginia ground agonizingly forward, the most vehement of the Radicals – led by Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips and Horace Greeley – staged a protest convention in Cleveland’s Cosmopolitan Hall, and on June 4 nominated the Radical darling, John Charles Fremont.

If ever there was a moment when Lincoln needed good news from the battlefield, it was now, and Grant wanted to deliver it. The staggering blows he had dealt the rebels convinced him a little too easily that the Confederates were “really whipped,” that “our men feel they have gained morale over the enemy and attack with confidence,” and that with one more blow, “success over Lee’s army is already assured.” On June 1, Grant launched a hasty strike at Cold Harbor, before the bulk of his army could get into action. Even so, the attack cracked the Confederate defenses on the Cold Harbor road and forced them to fall back. With another good push, Grant might just be able “crush Lee’s army on the north side of the James, with the prospect in case of success of driving him into Richmond, capturing the city perhaps without a siege, and putting the Confederate government to flight” – not to mention providing a rousing military endorsement for Lincoln’s renomination.

But Grant, in his eagerness, had badly misread the Confederates, and when he launched a full-dress attack at Cold Harbor on June 3, it resembled (as one Confederate general put it) “not war but murder.” Well-prepared Confederate infantrymen mowed down federal at-tackers. Grant’s army sustained 3,500 casualties in the main attack and another 2,500 in related actions that day, and the armies settled into a miserable standoff.

Yet Grant carefully limited his report of the Cold Harbor debacle to four terse sentences, including the claim that “our loss was not severe.” And in the official report of the campaign he filed after the war, Cold Harbor consumed just three sentences in 51 pages. For years afterward, Grant’s doubters wondered whether he had deliberately soft-pedaled the failure at Cold Harbor in order to limit political damage to Lincoln on the eve of the Baltimore convention. There is no direct evidence of such collusion; still, Grant’s dismissal of his losses as “not severe” is peculiar.

Even more peculiar, newspaper reporting from the field was shut down by the War Department because of “a violent storm.” The New York Times (whose editor, Henry Raymond, was the new chairman of the National Union Party’s national Committee) did not publish an ac-count of the June 3 attack for three more days, and even then, merely observed that “losses were inconsiderable.”

Strangest of all, however, was Grant’s refusal to propose a truce to recover the wounded from the battlefield until June 7. Military tradition dictated that only the loser of an engagement asked for such a truce. Even though there could not have been much debate about who had won and who had lost at Cold Harbor, Grant delayed the truce agreement (and any public admission of defeat) for four days, while men suffered and died from thirst, blood loss and exposure.

By June 7, however, any anxiety that bad news from Cold Harbor would endanger Lincoln’s nomination was past. That same day, the Union National Convention opened at the Front Street Theater in Baltimore, with Robert J. Breckinridge asking triumphantly, “Does any one doubt that this convention intends to say that Abraham Lincoln shall be the nominee?” They did not, and the next day, undisturbed by any news of Cold Harbor, Lincoln – described by one state delegation as “the second savior of the world” – was unanimously renominated by the convention.

Given how diligently the National Union Party’s staff had worked to ensure Lincoln’s renomination in the months before the Baltimore assembly, even the freshest news from Cold Harbor might not have made much difference. But keeping the ill wind at bay certainly did not hurt. Nor was it uncommon in this war for the impact of bad military news to be blunted by creative hesitation. One of Grant’s corps commanders was overheard telling a staffer not to report actual casualty figures: “It will never do, Locke, to make a showing of such heavy losses.” After that, wrote the officer who overheard him, “I always doubted reports of casualties.” It irked one Philadelphia newspaper on June 9 to admit that “we can scarcely find out that there was fought one of the bloodiest battles of the war, yet, until yesterday, no one knew its result.” This was, in the end, a highly political war, in which military decisions frequently turned before the winds of politics. And in the coming months, Lincoln would find far greater political challenges in the path of re-election than the ones presented by Cold Harbor.

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Sources: R.P. Basler, ed., “Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln”; Larry T. Balsamo, “’We Cannot Have Free Government without Elections’: Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1864,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 94 (Summer 2001); Gordon C. Rhea, “Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26-June 3, 1864”; Ralph Morris Goldman, “The National Party Chairmen and Committees: Factionalism at the Top”; Andrew F. Rolle, “John Charles Fremont: Character As Destiny”; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series One, 37 (pt 1); Gordon C. Rhea, “The Overland Campaign,” Hallowed Ground 15 (Spring 2014); The New York Times, June 6 and 8, 1864; Ernest B. Furgurson, “Not War But Murder: Cold Harbor, 1864”; D.F. Murphy, “Proceedings of the National Union Convention Held in Baltimore, Md., June 7th and 8th, 1864”; Morris Schaff, “The Battle of the Wilderness”; David E. Long, “Cover-up at Cold Harbor,” Civil War Times Illustrated 36 (June 1997).


Allen C. Guelzo, professor of the Civil War era at Gettysburg College, is the author, most recently, of “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion.”

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The National Pastime, Amid a National Crisis

The New York Times    May 9, 2014

Michael Beschloss

 

An early version of a baseball game took place in the background as members of the 48th New York State Volunteer Infantry lined up in Fort Pulaski, Ga., in 1862. Credit Western Reserve Historical Society

An early version of a baseball game took place in the background as members of the 48th New York State Volunteer Infantry lined up in Fort Pulaski, Ga., in 1862. Western Reserve Historical Society

This is one of the earliest photographs ever taken of a baseball game, and it happened by accident. The photographer, Henry P. Moore, of Concord, N.H., was focusing on the well-uniformed Union soldiers of the 48th New York State Volunteer Infantry, but he also captured their baseball-playing comrades in the background.

The “hurler” (as pitchers were called), wearing a white shirt, is tossing underhand (by the rules of the day) to a “striker” (batter), with bent knee. At the time, baseball had yet to achieve anything like the level of importance it later attained; for Moore, it was just something that got into your picture frame when you were trying to photograph soldiers on display.

It was the second year of the Civil War, and the scene was Fort Pulaski, Ga., which stood on an island at the mouth of the Savannah River. After falling to the Confederacy in 1861, the fortress had been bombarded for 30 hours and seized back in April 1862, preventing the rebels from using the vital port of Savannah. Like an increasing number of both rebel and Union soldiers, Pulaski’s warriors were encouraged to divert themselves from time to time by turning to baseball.

By combining the Civil War and baseball, Moore’s photograph merges two of the most important elements of the American historical experience, both of which, to this day, have deep emotional resonance. Baseball did not became the “national pastime” until long after Appomattox, but Americans came to feel so passionately about the game that some mythmakers tried to embellish the historical record by exaggerating its importance during the time the Union fought the South.

For instance, Abner Doubleday (1819-1893) — revered as the Union’s second in command at Fort Sumter, S.C., who, in April 1861, had fired the first shot defending the beleaguered federal garrison — was posthumously claimed to be the “inventor” of baseball. This was although Doubleday had made no such assertion for himself, left no evidence of it in his papers, and, at the time he was supposed to have fashioned the game in Cooperstown, N.Y., (now home of the Baseball Hall of Fame), was studying at West Point. To this day, some baseball fans insist (inaccurately) that home plate was designed to resemble the five-sided Fort Sumter, recognizing Doubleday’s “contribution” to the game.

Others exaggerated baseball’s place in the life of the greatest Civil War figure of all.

As a lawyer, and maybe as president, Abraham Lincoln may have picked up a bat in an early version of the game called “town ball”; he almost certainly viewed games on what is now the Ellipse, south of the White House. But later fabulists insisted that he was such a baseball fanatic that, when about to be notified by a Republican delegation of his nomination for President in 1860, Lincoln, playing baseball in Springfield, said, “They’ll have to wait a few minutes, until I make another hit.”

Of another, more ludicrous, made-up scene, you can agree with the moral of the story without accepting that it happened. This had the grievously wounded president on his deathbed in April 1865, regaining consciousness long enough to utter final words to Abner Doubleday: “Keep baseball going. The country needs it!”

 

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Maryland Man May Have Found Two Lost of Forgotten Photos of Lincon´s Funeral Procesion

Michael E. Ruane

Washington Post   March 19, 2014

In the first photograph, the crowd outside the church seems to be waiting for something to come down the street. Children stand up front so they can see. Women, in the garb of the mid-1800s, shield themselves from the sun with umbrellas. White-gloved soldiers mill around. And a few people have climbed a tree for a better view.

(Mathew Brady/The National Archives)

In this second shot, some heads are bowed. Men have taken off their hats. And the blur of a large black object is disappearing along the street to the left of the frame. What the scene depicts, why it was photographed, or where, has been a mystery for decades, experts at the National Archives say. But a Maryland man has now offered the theory that the two photos are rare, long-forgotten images of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession in New York City.

(Mathew Brady/The National Archives)

Paul Taylor, 60, of Columbia, a retired federal government accountant, believes the scene is on Broadway, outside New York’s historic Grace Church.

The day is Tuesday, April 25, 1865, 11 days after Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre in Washington.

 And the crowd is waiting for, and then seems to be paying homage before, a horse-drawn hearse, whose motion makes it appear as a black blur as it passes by in the second picture.

If Taylor is right, scholars say he has identified rare photos of Lincoln’s marathon funeral rites, as well as images that show mourners honoring the slain chief executive.

Plus, it appears that the photographs were taken from an upper window of the studio of famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, which was across the street from the church.

“It’s a big deal,” said Richard Sloan, an expert on the Lincoln funeral ceremonies in New York. “What makes it even a bigger deal is to be able to study the people. Even though you can’t see faces that well, just studying the people tells a story.”

Sloan added, “It’s as if you’re there, and you can see the mood.”

Many people, including children, are in their Sunday best. A few look up at the camera. Flowers are in bloom. But there is no levity.

Sloan said he is convinced that the pictures show the funeral scenes: “There’s no doubt about it.”

But experts at the Archives caution that although the theory sounds good, there could be other explanations, and no way to prove it conclusively.

The digital photographs were made from some of the thousands of Brady images acquired by the federal government in the 1870s and handed down to the National Archives in the 1940s, according to Nick Natanson, an archivist in the Archives’ still-picture unit.

Next year is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination.

The two photos in question, both captioned “scene in front of church,” apparently had gone unnoticed for decades.

“We’ve had many inquiries about many images in the Brady file,” he said. “I can’t remember . . . any inquiries about these two particular images. I don’t think I ever noticed them before.”

But something about them intrigued Taylor when he saw them among the hundreds of Brady photographs posted on an Archives Flickr photo-sharing site in January.

Both were unusual four-image pictures — four shots of the same scene grouped together.

“I was just struck by the scene,” Taylor said. “That is not your normal scene in front of church. There’s just people everywhere: the streets, the sidewalks, the roof. They’re in the trees. This is not your normal Sunday.”

In the second picture, “I saw this black streak,” he said. “When I looked at it closer, I saw what it was. It was a funeral vehicle. . . . I knew it was Lincoln. It had to be. It couldn’t be anybody else.”

Natanson, of the Archives, was skeptical. “It still strikes me as odd that . . . there wouldn’t have been some mention or some hint [in the caption] of the monumental nature of the event,” he said.

There could have been other events, “maybe even other processions, maybe even other funerals” during that time period, he said. “I don’t think its possible to establish this without any doubt.”

But if Taylor is right, it could be an important discovery, Natanson said: “It isn’t as if there are dozens of images of the funeral procession anywhere.”

The funeral observances for Lincoln, who was assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, went on for more than two weeks. During that time, the president’s body was moved by train on a 13-day, 1,600-mile journey from Washington to Springfield, Ill., where he was buried May 4.

Along the way, the train stopped in over a dozen major cities, and his coffin was removed for numerous processions and elaborate tributes.

Washington historian James L. Swanson has called the funeral journey a “death pageant” that was viewed by millions of people and that helped create the image of Lincoln the martyred president.

New York was the fourth major stop on the journey, after Baltimore, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia.

The president’s coffin, with the lid unfortunately open, was placed on view in New York’s City Hall on April 24, according to Swanson’s account. Lincoln had been dead for 10 days, and his face was “not a pleasant sight,” the New York Times reported.

The next day, with the lid closed, the coffin was borne through jammed streets aboard a black hearse decorated with flags and black plumes and drawn by a team of 16 horses shrouded in black.

A half-million people lined the route, much of which was along Broadway.

“Thousands and thousands of these lookers on were too young . . . and were doubtless brought in order that in old age they might say they saw the funeral procession of Abraham Lincoln,” the Times wrote the next day.

Taylor said his investigation of the photos began Jan. 4, when he first noticed them. The captions didn’t give him much to go on. The problem was that the original glass negatives probably didn’t have captions on them, said Brady biographer Robert Wilson. And by the time the government acquired the negatives, any caption information that went with them was probably lost.

Taylor turned to the Internet for images of historic churches, to see whether he could find the one in the Brady images. He looked up historic churches in Baltimore. No luck. Then he tried historic churches in New York.

That search brought up Grace Episcopal church, the 168-year Gothic edifice on Broadway at Tenth Street.

“I’m looking at it, and that was it,” he said. “I had it.”

He e-mailed his findings to the Archives on March 3.

Taylor, who said he has long been fascinated by historic photographs, said he does not think the images have ever been published before.

Bob Zeller, president of the Center for Civil War photography, agreed, but he wrote in an e-mail: “There is always a slim chance that somebody somewhere has recognized and printed [them] in some obscure . . . publication.”

“Either way, it’s incredibly historic, (a) totally fresh piece of our American photo history,” he wrote. “Even if someone materializes, that still means 99.9 percent of us, enthusiasts and historians, have never seen it.”

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Lincoln and the Cannibals

By Jeffrey Allen Smith

The New York Times  February 25, 2014

While America was embroiled in a bloody civil war for its very survival, a little over 5,000 miles away from Washington, in the middle of the South Pacific, the people of the Marquesas Islands were in a struggle of their own over slavery.

The American war, unsurprisingly, more detailed documentation. In the Marquesas conflict, differing witness testimony, secondhand accounts, various newspaper articles, translations and time all conspired to obscure details. Nevertheless, in sifting through the historical minutiae, a relatively clear picture emerged of an incredible series of events that ultimately came to the attention of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1864.

In 1856, slavery technically ended in Peru, but the need for workers to toil in slavelike conditions in the country’s tin and guano mines did not. As a result, “blackbirding” ships roamed the Pacific ensnaring unfortunate souls “by hook or by crook” to labor in Peru. The victims were often the peoples of the South Pacific.

In 1863 a Peruvian blackbirding ship sailed into Puamau Bay on the northeastern shore of Hiva Oa Island in the Marquesas. After opening fire on people gathered onshore, the slavers made off with all the Puamau men and women they could grab, including the chief’s son. Understandably distraught and angered by this atrocity, those who lived through the assault pledged to exact a frightful vengeance if foreign sailors dared show again.

Unfortunately, the crew members of the American whaling ship Congress from New Bedford, Mass., were the next foreign sailors to show. Capt. Francis E. Stranburg and his men were blissfully ignorant of the islanders’ oath of revenge and the raid on Puamau Bay when they casually dropped anchor there Jan. 13, 1864. For to the captain and crew, this was routine, just another stop to make repairs and obtain provisions. The sailors lowered two longboats loaded with trade goods, and a small detachment of men led by the first officer, Jonathan Whalon, rowed toward the beach in Puamau Bay.

Probably intoxicated by tales of Polynesian hospitality and the “custom” of offering attractive young females to traders, Whalon interpreted the hand gestures, broken English and disposition of the islanders who paddled out to greet them as signs of a people eager to trade. Foolishly, Whalon went ashore alone with the Marquesans, ordering the crew of the two longboats to stay back and wait for his return.

However, once well inside the tree line, the Paumau men seized Whalon, stripped him of his clothes and bound him. They took him to their village, where tribal members reportedly pinched him, tweaked his nose, bent his fingers back over his hands, menacingly swung hatchets at him and eventually began building a fire with which to cook him.

Back in Paumau Bay, more islanders were actively trying to entice the waiting sailors in the two longboats to come ashore. The whalers almost complied, and would have but for the efforts of a Marqusesan girl who ran out frantically shouting and waving her hands. The chaotic scene proved unnerving and unsettling to the sailors, so they returned to the Congress without Whalon.

By this time word had begun to spread on the island about the kidnapped American sailor. A Hawaiian missionary improbably named Alexander Kaukau (Kaukau is Hawaiian pidgin for “food” or “to eat”) and Bartholomen Negal, a local German carpenter, tried and failed to dissuade Mato, the Paumau chief, from killing Whalon. According to some reports, Kaukau pleaded with Mato for Whalon’s life but Mato replied, “The white men are wrong in kidnapping my son and carrying him to their land. I dearly love my son.” Again Kaukau implored Mato claiming that Americans were “good people.” Unpersuaded, Mato simply shot back, “They are all one kind, white men.”

However, fate interceded with the arrival of another Hawaiian missionary, James Kekela, the first Hawaiian ordained as a Christian missionary and Kaukau’s senior. He had fortuitously just returned from a neighboring island to reports of a “white man is about to be roasted.” After gaining what information he could, Kekela donned his black preacher’s jacket and, with only his bible in hand, set off for Mato’s village. The negotiations were tense, and at one point Kekela declared he would trade “anything and everything he possessed” for the sailor’s release.

But ultimately Kekela purchased Whalon’s freedom with much less: his black preacher’s jacket and prized whaleboat. In fact, some contend that the entire event was a ruse by Mato to get Kekela’s boat, given its high value in the islands. Nevertheless, Kekela returned Whalon to the waiting Congress, which sailed to Honolulu, where tales of “cannibals” capturing an American sailor and Kekela’s heroics prompted the American minister to Hawaii, James McBride, to write a note to Secretary of State William H. Seward.

McBride’s letter, dated Feb. 26, 1864, detailed the harrowing events in the Marquesas and requested that Seward “show to the world … we have tender regard for each one of our number, and that we highly, very highly, appreciate such favors.”

Taking almost a month to make its way across the Pacific, the letter arrived on Seward’s desk by April 18, 1864. Three days later Seward replied that he had submitted McBride’s account of the rescue to Lincoln and that the president had “instructions” for the diplomat. McBride was directed to “draw on this department for five hundred dollars in gold” to purchase presents for Whalon’s rescuers, and to engrave the gifts with the words: “From the President of the United States to – for his [or her] noble conduct in rescuing an American citizen from death-Island of Hivaoa-1863.” (McBride took it upon himself to correct the year to 1864.)

Roughly a year later, on Feb. 14, 1865, McBride sent word to Seward detailing the presents he distributed. He had sent gifts to the Hawaiian missionary Kaukau, the German carpenter Negal and even the young Marquesan girl who warned the sailors in the two long boats. He gave Kekela two new suits and a gold Cartier pocket watch with the inscription, “From the President of the United States to Rev. J. Kekela For His Noble Conduct in Rescuing An American Citizen from Death on the Island of Hiva Oa January 14, 1864.”

To express his gratitude, Kekela wrote a seven-page letter of thanks in Hawaiian to “A. Linekona” on March 27, 1865. Accompanied by an English translation, the letter opened with a short autobiographical sketch of Kekela before transitioning into a retelling of how he saved “a citizen of your great nation, ill-treated, and about to be baked and eaten, as a pig is eaten.” Kekela also commended Lincoln stating, “I greatly honor your interest in this countryman of yours. It is, indeed, in keeping with all I have known of your acts as president of the United States.” Unfortunately, Lincoln never read Kekela’s words. The letter did not reach Washington until almost two months after Lincoln’s assassination.

However, the impact of Kekela’s saving Whalon from “cannibals” and the gold watch Lincoln gave Kekela grew with time. In subsequent decades, newspapers reprinted and recounted Kekela’s actions, the gold watch from Lincoln, and Kekela’s letter to the president. The heartfelt prose in Kekela’s letter to Lincoln moved many, including Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote in his book “In the South Seas,” “I do not envy the man who can read it without emotion.”

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Jeffrey Allen Smith is an assistant professor of history at the University of Hawaii, Hilo. Research assistance for this article was provided by Samantha Aolani Kailihou and Noah Gomes.

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Hoy conmemoramos el sesquicentenario de uno de los discursos más famosos de la historia de Estados Unidos. Pronunciadas en honor a los caidos en la batalla de Gettysburg, las 272 palabras dichas por Lincoln el 19 de noviembre de 1863, se convirterion en un pieza clave de la historia política y la ideología republicana estadounidense.  Ciento cuenta años después, y en medio de una crisis económica, política y social, vale preguntarse si la democracia norteamericana atual se ajusta a la definición de Lincoln: el gobierno del pueblo, por el pueblo y para el pueblo. ¿Alguna vez fue así?

Four score 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 battle-field 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 can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not 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, 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.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

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Comparto con mis lectores una interesante selección de trabajos sobre el discurso de Lincoln publicadas por la History News Network.

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