Harry V. Jaffa, Foreword for George Anastaplo, Further Thoughts on Abraham Lincoln: A Discourse an Chance and Public Life (2013):
We listen, as invisible auditors, to the Lincoln’s as they ride in the carriage taking them to Ford’s Theater, the evening of April 15, 1865:
Well, Mary, I am glad we are going to. the theater after all. Jeff Davis doesn’t have an army to threaten us any more. We can look beyond the battlefield, and once again think as passengers of the ship of state as it sails on calmer waters.
But will the waters prove calmer? The necessities of war suppressed many differences. There will be a turbulent field of rivals in the release upon the body politic of 4,000,000 former slaves. The arts of advancing one’s interests under slavery, by slaves, and under freedom, by the free are very different. The 13th Amendment has not yet been ratified. It will still leave the former slaves without any defined constitutional role or purpose. They must become citizens of the United States, and then of the State in which they reside. We must not let any conspiracy deprive them of their rights as American citizens. We must not forget that it was the Union, and the States as members of the Union, that brought their freedom. And the Union armies had 200,000 black soldiers, without whom we could not have prevailed.
It was the Declaration of Independence that made the Union an antislavery Union. Black soldiers were in Washington’s army, and black citizens helped ratify the Constitution. Those who have denied these glories of our past will not cease to deny them, nor will they weary of the struggle. In their own minds, they may have been defeated, but they have not been refuted. Those who fought against the ‘Union, and their descendants, will carry on the fight for their legacy of slavery. The Civil War will not end with either the victory or the surrender of armies. The weapons of unarmed prophets have yet to be fully engaged. Our task is scarcely over. It may not even have begun. What will it be?
This book could have been written, or so it seems, only by a very confidential secretary. Time and again we are led by intimate steps to messages of a President who happened also to have been a literary genius. We feel his presence, not as a ghost that walks at midnight, but as a living, working writer. The analysis here by George Anastaplo of the Gettysburg Address surpasses everything hitherto written about it. Of course, nothing surpasses the Gettysburg Adddress itself. In its “naked deathless splendor, [we] leave it shining on.”
***The Anastaplo analysis of the Gettysburg Address referred to here is appended below [Copied from George Anastaplo’s manuscript, Further Thoughts on Abraham Lincoln: A Discourse on Chance and Public Life].
9. LIFE AND DEATH IN ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S GETTYSBURG ADDRESS
Abraham Lincoln’s speech upon the dedication in 1863 of the cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, can remind us of the funeral speech that was said by Thucydides to have been given, for those who had died in battle, by Pericles in Athens at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War. Pericles’ speech keeps death out of sight. He, in a speech several pages in length, refers explicitly to death only once, and even then to no more than an “unfelt death.”
Lincoln, in a speech of fewer than three hundred words, begins by speaking of providing “a final resting place for those who gave their lives.” Thereafter he speaks of the “living and dead,” of “those honoured dead,” and of the resolve “that these dead shall not have died in vain.” The dead that Pericles must deal with are Athenians, while Lincoln’s dead (so far as can be gathered from his overall policy) includes Southerners (buried elsewhere) as well as the Northerners buried here.
The fact of human mortality poses a challenge not only for human beings personally but also for the institutions they depend upon to sustain themselves. One senses that Pericles’ reticence about death reveals something troubling about his understanding of what we know as “the human condition.” This reticence may have something to do with the general opinion among Athenians that their poll had always been, that it was somehow rooted in the soil of Attica, unlike the other poleis of Greece, which were believed to have been founded centuries before by immigrants.
Lincoln’s “funeral” speech recognizes from its outset that his community had a known historical beginning. It recognizes as well that the very existence, or perpetuation, of this community has been threatened. That is, its mortality and hence its vulnerability are implicit in that it was born.
This community is referred to, at the outset of the speech, as a nation which had been “brought forth on this continent” by “our fathers.” The use by Lincoln of –“nation” has him tacitly reaffirming thereby the insistence of Unionists that the United States was more than the “compact,” or “contract,” or “federation” that the Secessionists were insisting upon. This is confirmed by the use, in effect, of 1776 (rather than, say, of 1787 or 1789) as the date of birth for this Nation.
The Union, Lincoln had said many times before, is older than the States. Robert E. Lee, on the other hand, could speak of Virginia as his country, but such nomenclature must have been difficult to use with respect to States known to have been fashioned and authorized (after 1789) by the General Government. The transformation over which Lincoln presided may be suggested by the fact that Nation is never used in the Constitution and Union (which is used there several times) is never used in the Gettysburg Address.
The Secessionists were dubious not only about terms such as nation, but also about the suggestion that one’s sovereign community rested upon anything but blood ties. They seemed to resist any notion that one’s country depended at all upon an idea or doctrine. Particularly threatening wherever slavery was found, it could seem, was the notion that “all men are created equal.”
Lincoln’s invocation of that language presents the Nation as rooted in the Declaration of Independence. But there was the “created equal” assertion that had been confidently identified as a “self-evident” truth. By Lincoln’s time it had become no more than a “proposition,” something to be tested, which “a great civil war” had had to do.
Decades of efforts by many in defense of slavery—an institution that was no longer generally recognized in the United States (as Lincoln insisted it had once been recognized) as “in the course of ultimate extinction”–made it difficult to continue to regard the “created equal” assertion as a self-evident truth. This is partly why it had become, for practical purposes, no better than a proposition to be demonstrated. Such testing was to be done not only by the use of arguments but also by the use of arms.
Propositions very much depend upon words. But this is a time for those deeds which will resurrect a vital truth of 1776 that had come to be questioned. This means, among other things, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
We know, of course, that the Lincoln speech at Gettysburg in November 1863 is remembered much better than the three-day battle there the previous July. Deeds without words tend to be (or to become) senseless, however important they may appear to be at the time. The words of Lincoln, especially the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, have done much “to make sense” of that grand deed we know as the Civil War.
If the right kind of deed is properly explained, the self-cvidentness, or inherent truth, of the “created equal” language can be once again recognized. Does Nature itself support such a truth? Is it nevertheless a truth that is more readily recognized at some times than it is at others?
Pericles, although a leader of the more popular party in Athens, was himself aristocratic in his origins, while Lincoln was obviously plebeian in WI origins. The appeal to the common man may be seen in Lincoln’s characterization of the requisite deeds as “work” and “task.” Such work can be said to have been “nobly advanced” by the warriors at Gettysburg, which expression provides an aristocratic veneer for their deeds.
The common touch—the humanity of this enterprise—is further suggested by the absence in this speech of all proper names. The universality of what this Nation is understood to mean is thereby reinforced. This elevation of the plebeian tacitly supports the assertion in 1776 that “all Men are created equal.”
The central words of the Gettysburg speech are found in the sentence, “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated [this ground], far above our poor power to add or detract.” Even so, the “power to add or detract” can identify what is truly praiseworthy not only in the sacrifices that may be made, but also in the cause eliciting such sacrifices. We have seen how the even greater sacrifices in Europe of the First World War, for which the military tactics of the American Civil War can be said to have prepared the way, came to be corrosive for decades thereafter because that war could not be talked about, in an enduring fashion, the way that the American Civil War could be, no matter how lofty the Wilsonian vision had once seemed to be.
Properly directed and explained work leads to the decisive confirmation and rededication of a regime. This naturally culminates in “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” a formulation evidently adapted by Lincoln from something said a generation earlier by Daniel Webster. This can even be understood as an explication of that “Republican Form of Government” affirmed in Article IV of the Constitution of 1787.
A government, to be “of the people,” has to be drawn from the people—that is, it somehow or other has to be authorized by them. To be “by the people,” it has to be a government conducted by them, directly or indirectly. And to be “for the people,” it has to be conducted primarily for their benefit.
Lincoln had many times said that the regime for which they were struggling was one that provided opportunities for all to develop fully their capacities. His own career testified to what could be done, consistent with the limits placed by one’s mortality. Such testimony could be provided by him in responses to regiments that serenaded him at the White House, suggesting to common soldiers that their own sons could accomplish what his father’s son had done.
Slavery was to be restricted and eventually eliminated as a denial of a principle vital to the American regime, that “all men are created equal.” It was in part a matter of chance, worldwide, who was enslaved and where. Slavery, because of its presuppositions and influence, could even be seen to enslave both masters and servants.
Nothing is said explicitly about slavery in the Gettysburg Address. The vindication of the principle that “all men are created equal” and the reaffirmation of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” loft no place for slavery in the system that would survive the war. The Emancipation Proclamation, of January 1, 1863, had significantly advanced that complete abolishment of slavery that was to be furthered by the Thirteenth Amendment of 1865.
The constitutional system for which Lincoln and his allies stood had been anticipated by generations of Americans. Thus, almost four score years before, it had been said by Publius in the opening paragraph of Federalist. No. 1:
It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.
We should notice here, even before the Constitution of 1787 was ratified, the use of “country” to identify the United States, something that may be seen as well in such memorable statements as Nathan Hale’s much-celebrated remarks at his execution.
We should notice as well the recognition by Publius, here as elsewhere in the Federalist of the unpredictable elements that are to be reckoned with in human affairs. This is inevitable for mortal beings. Even so, salutary use can be made of “reflection and choice” not only in establishing but also in conducting “good government.”
This nation, Lincoln asserts, was “conceived in Liberty.” Without some liberty, reflection and choice would be quite limited, sometimes leaving one only with the option of death as something that can be chosen. An exercise of liberty may be seen in how “the brave men, living and dead,” had conducted themselves on this and other battlefields of the war, contributing thereby to “a new birth of freedom.”
The use first of “conceived” and then of “new birth” may invite Lincoln’s audience to compare “Liberty” and “freedom.” A communal-minded freedom may connote more of a reflection and restraint than does a more individualistic liberty. Popular government may be seen thereby to be properly disciplined.
Both Pericles and Lincoln see their respective “cities” as models for the world. Thus, Athens is “the school of Greece” and the United States (or, at least, what it stands for) “shall not perish from the earth.” Cultural and political durability can serve thereby as a check on mortality.
Lincoln argues that a purgation of the crippling compromise with slavery opens up an indefinite future for the Nation. This development is reflected in how the speech as a whole is organized. I have had occasion to describe it in this fashion (in my first Abraham Lincoln, book):
The structure of the sentences Lincoln employed in sketching this development reflects and reinforces the content. The sentences get generally shorter and shorter, down to, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” We reach the dedication for which they had gathered, having moved “down” from the continent to a nation on that continent to a battlefield in that nation to a portion of that field. Then the movement is reversed; from here to the end, there is an expansion in sentence lengths, heralded by “But, in a larger sense.” The sentences get longer and longer—as does the dedication of the Country, which had theretofore contracted—and the scope of vision becomes larger: he moves from a “portion of that field” to “the earth.” The time with which he deals also expands, moving from “four score and seven years” and the contest over whether this government “can long endure” to the recitation of deeds that will never be forgotten and to the expression of the determination that this government “not perish from the earth.” This sense of expansion is reinforced by the final sentence, the last of ten, which contains almost one-third of the entire address. This sentence, which marches steadily along to the drumbeat of a high proportion of one- and two-syllable words, runs on and on, as if forever.
The qualification “as if forever” suggests the salutary illusions upon which a healthy political order may depend. The audience is reminded of “the unfinished work” left by “the brave men, living and dead,” who had fought not only here but everywhere in the war. It is perhaps salutary as well that such work be described as “unfinished,” not as that “unfinishable” state of things which may indeed be the prospect of mortal beings.