The Gettysburg Address: Lincolnian Sophistry
November 1, 2022 | View PDF
Being born in the middle of the Baby Boom, I have seen society improve in some ways and deteriorate in others. Declines in education are well documented. Although a large percentage of teachers seek to properly educate students, some have political agendas contrary to that of the traditional Christian South. Thinking back, it is clear parts of this agenda were under way during my youth, i.e., we were taught mostly “Yankee history.” (Post-war, Brown University President Dr. Francis Wayland said that was their plan.) One fallacy pushed on us was that the Gettysburg Address was truthful. We even had to memorize this oratorical gobbledygook.
Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania). The first line, referring to 1776, is factually incorrect: “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.” First of all, they did not create a “nation”—the classic definition of a nation is rooted in the word ethnos and is tied to homogeneity of ethnicity and culture. For example, China, Japan, Iraq, Iran, etc., would fit this description but not these united States. There were, however, thirteen independent, sovereign colonies (later called States) with separate and distinct governments and “diverse” settlers. The Declaration of Independence is not a government. It is a document tied to secession from the British Empire and it spells out the qualifications of legitimate government. Relative to a “federal or general” government, the States implemented the Articles of Confederation (1781), later replaced by the U.S. Constitution (1789). Neither stated, “all men are created equal” (an Enlightenment-inspired phrase included in the Declaration). “All men” are supposed to be equal under the law. Also, neither referenced a “nation” but both recognized the free and independent States (in plural form) that created each compact.
Lincoln then mentioned a “civil war.” By definition, there has been no civil war in this country. For example, England had an actual Civil War where the Royalists/Cavaliers and the Parliamentarians/Roundheads fought each other for control of the same government. The Southern States simply wanted independence; the remaining States could do as they pleased. New England and Upper Midwest States in particular saw Southern Independence as an economic threat, given the free trade structure of the Confederate Constitution, and they adamantly opposed it. One absurd contention is that the departure of the Southern States would destroy the Union. The U.S. would have remained intact; it would have simply had fewer States.
The Gettysburg Address was classic Lincolnian sophistry, a display of his prowess at political deception. Over halfway through the conflict, Lincoln claimed the war was suddenly not only about “preserving the Union” but for human equality and a “rebirth” as well. This was after he had declared from day one that the war was not about slavery but was strictly about “preserving the Union.” His First Inaugural on March 4, 1861, and his response to Southerners who tried to talk him out of war both show his primary concern was the economic threat of an independent South, which Lincoln’s banking and corporate supporters were determined to stop.
H.L. Mencken, the oft-cynical sage of Baltimore, Maryland, described the Gettysburg Address as follows:
“But let us not forget that it is oratory, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it! Put it into the cold words of everyday! The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination — “that government of the people, by the people, for the people,” should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. What was the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the States, i.e., of the people of the States? The Confederates went into battle an absolutely free people; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and vote of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that vote was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely any freedom at all. Am I the first American to note the fundamental nonsensicality of the Gettysburg address? If so, I plead my aesthetic joy in it in amelioration of the sacrilege.”
Mencken’s matter-of-fact description of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address tends to anger those who believe in an “indivisible union” where government by consent is disallowed. Perhaps, over time, more people will realize the only legitimate government is one that is voluntary and actually represents its constituents.
Sources: “Gettysburg address delivered at Gettysburg Pa Nov. 19th, 1863,” from The Library of Congress; “Charles Adams on the Gettysburg Address,” by Thomas DiLorenzo, from lewrockwell.com; “Lincoln Changed the Subject with Gettysburg Address,” by Kirkpatrick Sale, from lewrockwell.com; “H.L. Mencken on Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address,” from faithandheritage.com; and “The United States is Not a Nation: The Problem with National Conservatism,” by Allen Mendenhall, from mises.org.