FACT CHECK: Trump Says Lincoln Was Ridiculed For The Gettysburg Address

Shane Devine | Fact Check Reporter

At a campaign rally in Billings, Montana, President Donald Trump claimed that President Abraham Lincoln was “excoriated” for his Gettysburg Address by the press of his day.

Verdict: True

Several contemporary news publications criticized the address, including the Harrisburg Patriot & Union, which dismissed Lincoln’s speech as “silly remarks.” Many newspapers praised the speech as well.

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After lamenting that he isn’t receiving enough credit for major actions taken by his administration, Trump referenced Lincoln and the ridicule he received for the Gettysburg Address. “He was excoriated by the fake news – they had fake news then – he was excoriated. They said it was a terrible, terrible speech,” he said on Sept 6.

“Fifty years after his death they said it may have been the greatest speech ever made in America,” Trump added. “I have a feeling that’s going to happen with us. In different ways, that’s going to happen with us.”

CNN’s editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza, denied that Lincoln was ridiculed, and referred to a tweet from an unverified Twitter user named George Conway to raise questions about Trump’s claim.

It turns out, however, that newspapers did criticize the now-famous Gettysburg Address. On Nov. 24, 1863, five days after Lincoln delivered the address, the Harrisburg Patriot & Union wrote the following:

“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. 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.”

Since then, the Harrisburg Patriot & Union has become The Patriot-News, and in 2013, the news organization retracted its predecessor’s statement with a parodistic but sincere apology:

“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 Patriot-News regrets the error.”

Then, just days ago, The Patriot-News responded to the comments Trump made at his rally. In its article, The Patriot-News explained that Trump’s claim was accurate because they were the ones who criticized Lincoln. “So, Mr. President, on behalf of our ancestors, we’re sorry for panning the Gettysburg Address. It seriously won’t happen again,” they joked.

Besides the Harrisburg Patriot & Union, other newspapers at the time gave negative comments too. The Chicago Times wrote, “The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances.”

An American correspondent for The London Times reported that “the inauguration of the cemetery at Gettysburg was an imposing ceremony, only rendered somewhat flat by the nature of Mr. Everett’s lecture, and ludicrous by some of the luckless sallies of that President Lincoln, who seems determined to play in this great American Union the part of the famous governor of the Isle of Barataria.”

The “Isle of Barataria” is from Miguel de Cervantes’ famous novel “Don Quixote.” The journalist was alluding to a part when the comically foolish servant Sancho Panza is pranked into believing that he has inherited an island kingdom.

Of course, the Gettysburg Address was received positively as well. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man.”

British journalist Goldwin Smith sang Lincoln’s praises, saying, “Not a sovereign in Europe, however trained from the cradle for state pomps, and however prompted by statesmen and courtiers, could have uttered himself more regally than did Lincoln at Gettysburg.”

And the Springfield Republican, more focused on the language of the speech than the others, said, “His little speech is a perfect gem; deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma. Then it has the merit of unexpectedness in its verbal perfection and beauty … Turn back and read it over, it will repay study as a model speech. Strong feelings and a large brain are its parents.”

An eyewitness account from The New York Daily Tribune reported that there was “long-continued applause” after Lincoln finished his speech, but there are conflicting reports on how it was received by the audience. An attendee named Sarah Cooke Meyers recalled the event as follows: “I was close to the President and heard all of the Address, but it seemed short. Then there was an impressive silence like our Menallen Friends Meeting. There was no applause when he stopped speaking.”

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Shane Devine

Fact Check Reporter


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