Lincoln delivered the short address (of either 268 or 270 words, depending on which contemporary version is consulted) on 19 November 1863, at the dedication of a national cemetery for those killed in the battle of Gettysburg the previous July. On Tuesday 24 November 1863, the Harrisburg Patriot & Union published a lengthy editorial in which it lamented “the silly remarks of the President” and said: “… for the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”
The Patriot & Union’s descendant, the Patriot-News, retracted those remarks on Thursday, in an editorial cast to echo the words and tone of a speech which became a foundation stone of American democracy.
The Patriot-News’s opinion editor, John Micek, told the Guardian: “Our panning of the Gettysburg Address has long been a part of the Patriot-News lore and always a bit of a nettle in our side, given our proximity to Gettysburg [about 30 miles away] and the huge place the battle has in the region’s history. With the 150th anniversary of the address on Tuesday, the time seemed right to correct the record.
“But we also wanted to have some fun with it. We decided right away that it could not be any longer than the actual address and we wanted to echo its soaring language in a humorous way.”
Matthew Zencey, the Patriot-News’s deputy opinion editor, wrote the retraction, which will be included in Sunday’s print edition of the paper. Zencey’s retraction begins: “Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to its audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives.”
“The work is all Matt’s and it’s genius,” said Micek. “The response has been just amazing. News outlets from across the US and the world have been in touch. It’s been a pretty great reminder of the power of journalism to touch people’s lives and a vivid reminder of the justifiably important place President Lincoln’s words occupy in our national consciousness.”
Zencey concludes: “In the fullness of time, we have come to a different conclusion. No mere utterance, then or now, could do justice to the soaring heights of language Mr Lincoln reached that day. By today’s words alone, we cannot exalt, we cannot hallow, we cannot venerate this sacred text, for a grateful nation long ago came to view those words with reverence, without guidance from this chagrined member of the mainstream media.
“The world will little note nor long remember our emendation of this institution’s record – but we must do as conscience demands.”