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Partisan politics and the Gettysburg Address

First page of Lincoln's first draft of the Gettysburg Address.  Library of Congress
First page of Lincoln’s first draft of the Gettysburg Address.
Library of Congress

In my last month’s York Sunday News column, I compared the brief coverage of the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery in the staunchly Democratic York Gazette with that of the Republican Hanover Spectator. The Gazette gave one sentence to President Lincoln, saying: “At the conclusion of Mr. Everett’s address, the dedicatory ceremony was appropriately performed by President Lincoln.” There was no mention of any words he might have uttered.

Newspaper coverage and editorial stances of 150 years ago were far from unbiased. The nation was split not only North and South, but also Democrat and Republican. Most newspapers embraced one party or the other. It wasn’t that long ago that the York Gazette and Daily (York Daily Record’s predecessor) was known as the Democrats’ paper and the York Dispatch as the Republicans’. You could often tell a person’s political leanings by learning to which paper they subscribed. (Except maybe in the rural areas, where the newspapers came by mail. My Republican family got the Gazette, the morning paper, because it came the same day instead of the evening distributed Dispatch, which would be dated the day before by the time the mail carrier brought it.)

Today’s Harrisburg Patriot editorial gives an apology for a November 1863 editorial opionion in its forerunner, the Harrisburg Patriot and Union, dismissing Lincoln’s remarks as “silly.” But, as the newspaper’s Donald Gilliland points out in his post on the subject, the 150-year-old editorial must be put into context of the Patriot and Union’s whole coverage of the Gettysburg National Cemetery dedication. It’s a lesson for us today–how much of what we think is true history has been taken out of context?