Lincoln doubles down on freedom at Gettysburg

The St. Joseph County Public Library will read “The Killer Angles,” Michael Shaara’s historical novel about The Battle of Gettysburg, during this year’s One Book, One Michiana  event. Linda Conyers, the library’s head of public programs said that 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the battle, and Shaara’s book fit the occasion.Libraries across the area will start six weeks of Civil War related activities starting on Monday.

The 1993 movie “Gettysburg” is an adaptation of Sharra’s book. The book and the movie may be about the battle, but Abraham Lincoln’s shadow hovers over every major event that took place during the war That is especially true of The Battle of Gettysburg because of the The Gettysburg Address, the Nov. 19, 1863 speech that Lincoln gave near the end of a ceremony to dedicate the cemetery located in a portion of the battleground.

The speech that made Lincoln a transformational leader followed a two hour plus speech. In an address that lasted half as long as a listener commentary on WVPE, Lincoln expanded the conflict’s meaning beyond the legalistic rationale about preserving the union.

Prior to Gettysburg, Lincoln acted as a pragmatic, rational leader employing realpolitik that Yale professor Steve Smith described in his Notre Dame  lecture. Lincoln’s reluctance about explicitly framing the war as being about slavery resulted from his understanding that many in the north were ambivalent about fighting the war over slavery.

Lincoln didn’t like slavery. However, once the war started his moves to acknowledge black humanity could be justified on the basis of strategic necessity. Some say that the  Emancipation Proclamation was only of symbolic significance because  it only freed slaves in the states that seceded from the union. Yet, many of those freed slaves left the plantations whenever the Union army claimed rebel territory..

Allowing blacks to fight provided the Union army with 183,000 additional troops.  Both decisions support Smith’s assertion that Lincoln’s decisions were grounded in rationality and the constitution.

Lincoln drops the rational and legalistic prose and adopts the poetry and transformation and freedom in The Gettysburg Address. The president connects the civl war to the advancement of freedom that began in America 87 years earlier. By doing so, Lincoln explicitly links the fate of the slaves with founding principles of the nation. That was a bold statement in 1863. It is especially bold when considering that the Union’s war prospect and Lincoln’s reelection prospects were far from certain. Yet, the freedom agenda enunciated by LIncoln at Gettysburg has continued to advance since Nov. 19, 1863.


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