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A Silly Retraction

 

 

 

As faithful readers of this blog know, there are few bigger fans of Mr. Lincoln than me, and I completely concur with Sir Winston Churchill that the Gettysburg Address  is “The ultimate expression of the majesty of Shakespeare’s language.” 

That having been said I found profoundly silly a retraction which appears in the Patriot News newspaper:

We write today in reconsideration of “The Gettysburg Address,” delivered by then-President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the greatest conflict seen on American soil. Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time, called President Lincoln’s words “silly remarks,” deserving “a veil of oblivion,” apparently believing it an indifferent and altogether ordinary message, unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity.

The retraction goes on to state:

In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.

 

Go here to read the rest.  This rubs me the wrong way.  Apologizing for the actions of men long dead always strikes me as asinine.  The men who penned the original editorial cannot defend their opinion now.  If they could, they probably would note that they reflected a large body of Northern opinion that viewed the War as a tragic mistake, brought on by abolitionist fanaticism, which caused over a million homes in the North to be draped in mourning.  I view such arguments as being completely erroneous, but I leave to those who made such arguments the dignity to which they are entitled of being participants in the maelstrom of devastating events who were honestly stating their views.  To have successors a century and a half later glibly denouncing their views, even attributing such views to strong drink, insults them and insults the historical record.  It is part and parcel of a historical myopia which views the present as perfect and entitled to denounce the benighted individuals who had the misfortune to live before our enlightened times.  The simple truth is that we, just as much as those in the past we denounce, are in many ways prisoners of our times, often taking our attitudes and beliefs from those that enjoy popularity in our day.  I have absolutely no doubt that the successors of the papers which praised the Gettysburg Address one hundred and fifty years ago, might well be denouncing it today, if the War, and all our subsequent history, had turned out differently.  If one wishes to truly understand history, and the passions of the men and women who lived through it, one must be willing to understand what motivated them, why they did what they did.  This foolish retraction teaches us nothing about history, but quite a bit about how the Present usually is a bad judge of the Past, at least if we wish to understand the Past.  Here is a portion of the original editorial:

 

 

To say of Mr. Everett’s oration that it rose to the height which the occasion demanded, or to say of the President’s remarks that they fell below our expectations, would be alike false. Neither the orator nor the jester surprised or deceived us. Whatever may be Mr. Everett’s failings he does not lack sense – whatever may be the President’s virtues, he does not possess sense. Mr. Everett failed as an orator, because the occasion was a mockery, and he knew it, and the President succeeded, because he acted naturally, without sense and without constraint, in a panorama which was gotten up more for his benefit and the benefit of his party than for the glory of the nation and the honor of the dead.

 

 We can readily conceive that the thousands who went there went as mourners, to view the burial place of their dead, to consecrate, so far as human agency could, the ground in which the slain heroes of the nation, standing in relationship to them of fathers, husbands, brothers, or connected by even remoter ties of marriage or consanguinity, were to be interred. To them the occasion was solemn; with them the motive was honest, earnest and honorable. But how was it with the chief actors in the pageant, who had no dead buried, or to be buried there; from none of whose loins had sprung a solitary hero, living or dead, of this war which was  begotten of their fanaticism and has been ruled by their whims?

Go here to read the rest.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

12 Comments

  1. Too much Americanism here. It’s what I find rather silly. You sound like you have bought hook and sinker the freemasonic ideas so rampantly present. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Please, free yourself. Before 1776, Catholicity wasn’t found wanting in the rest of the world except America.

  2. Good attempt James: completely off topic, free masonry gibberish, and an attack on something not raised in the post. Life is so simple when one places one’s fingers firmly in one’s ears and shouts about what one wishes to talk about!

  3. The Patriot-News is apparently keeping up two traditions of the paper after all: being an organ of yellow dog Democrat sentiment, and ignoring the rights of people deemed less than human by powerful forces within their party.

  4. Go here to read the rest. This rubs me the wrong way. Apologizing for the actions of men long dead always strikes me as asinine.

    In the main I would agree with you but it might behoove the legislatures of So. Carolina, Alabama and the other rebel states to repudiate their ancestors’ actions, esp. since many tried to justify their actions well into the 20th century.
    A simple acknowledgement of the truth might be nice might be nice even without an apology.

    Off-topic: I just re-read 12 Years a Slave and saw the movie. Both HIGHLY recommended.

  5. I guess that your concerns wouldn’t apply to JPII’s apologies on behalf of the Church because the Church is not long-dead, but still living, Holy Spirit breathing; responsive and responsible… and the issues addressed on always ongoing and still having an effect

  6. Apologizing for the actions of men long dead always strikes me as asinine.

     

    I would ask any of those who agree with that statement to consider the case of New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, the Lord Haw Haw of Stalin’s pre-WWII genocide, though unlike Duranty, Lord Haw Haw never received a Pulitzer for his work, so in that sense the comparison is inapt.

     

    A sincere “never again” on that particular episode of history is long overdue.

  7. And it would be a completely meaningless one HA. Those who wish to, know all about Duranty and his lies. The current powers that be at The New York Times have nothing to do with him. They have their own lies they promulgate daily, and their taking a moment out to give a completely insincere apology for Duranty’s would do nothing to impact that.

  8.  

    The New York Times have nothing to do with him. They have their own lies they promulgate daily, and their taking a moment out to give a completely insincere apology for Duranty’s would do nothing to impact that.

     

    A completely insincere apology? I am not sure what that has to do with what I wrote, but perhaps you missed the word “sincere” in the last sentence of my post, making your reply somewhat beside the point. As any Catholic should know, a sincere apology involves contrition and a resolve to change one’s behavior, and to atone for it. And as for the NYT not having anything to do with Duranty, I submit that the lies they continues to peddle to this day come from the same playbook that Duranty followed, so that a sincere apology, or at least a sincere resolve to stop flakking for the brave new world Duranty championed in the NYT’s pages is something we should all welcome.

     

  9. “completely insincere apology? I am not sure what that has to do with what I wrote, but perhaps you missed the word “sincere” in the last sentence of my post, making your reply somewhat beside the point.”

    Nope. An apology for wrongs done by someone else long dead is by definition always insincere. You were attempting to posit a square circle. Such apologies are always a form of moral grandstanding, and say nothing about amendment of current actions of the person making the apology. Now if The New York Times wanted to humbly apologize for their role in pushing ObamaCare on the nation, that would be an apology worth reading.

  10. I would agree that the particular example you cited regarding the Gettysburg Address is a case of an editorial writer having too much time on his hands. But trying to use that to make the general point that apologizing for the actions of those who came before us is always asinine is going too far.

     

    I maintain that in those cases where the sins of our fathers are part of an ongoing pattern of evil, apologizing for those sins is a useful first step in changing our own behavior. That is how we learn the lessons of history so as not to repeat them. And as the Biblical story of Samuel’s denunciation of David’s treatment of Uriah indicates, it is sometimes easier to get ourselves exercised over the sins of others than it is to recognize that those sins are ours.

     

    I did not become a conservative by nature. I did it by acknowledging not just the Hitlers and the slave owners, and trying to confront whatever in my own constitution might enable such evil in the future, but also by acknowledging the Stalins and the Maos and the countless well-meaning socialists who continue to starve and murder millions to this day, and to atone for that other mark of Cain. You might be blessedly free of that Catholic guilt that renders you culpable for what happened decades and even centuries ago. I am not, and perhaps I’m better off for it.

     

    In any case, the NYT is today a teeming village of Walter Durantys. Getting them to sincerely acknowledge and apologize for his sins would, I maintain, be a good first step in getting to acknowledge their own furtherance of his campaign of disinformation. You can disagree with me all you want, but I’m confident a more objective reader will see some truth in what I say. In any case, we will just have to agree to disagree.

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