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York County newspapers have different views of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg Procession November 19, 1863
Gettysburg Procession November 19, 1863

If you think news coverage is slanted and Democrats and Republicans are at odds today, you should have been around during the Civil War. My recent York Sunday News column below compares the coverage given the speakers at the November 1863 Gettysburg National Cemetery dedication.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Not Acclaimed by All

Partisan politics flourished in the North during the Civil War. A comparison of the coverage of Lincoln’s November 19, 1863 Gettysburg address, using the Hanover Spectator (Republican) and the York Gazette (Democrat) illustrates the sharp division in York County, a (barely) northern county.

There is no doubt who the Spectator supported. Even though the 1864 presidential election was a year away, the Spectator proudly proclaims below its masthead:


Headlines and subheadings of the lead article that week read:

Our Great National Cemetery,
Addresses of President Lincoln and Hon. Edward Everett

The article takes up a half page of the November 27 four-page weekly, the first issue of the Spectator that covered the dedication. It states:

“On Thursday last, the 19th of November, 1863 was a great day in the history of Pennsylvania. Her great battle field, the battle-ground of the present civil war, the field of national, decisive victory, was dedicated, with appropriate ceremonies, as the Cemetery of the Union”

It continues with a detailed description of the dedication, credited to the Philadelphia Inquirer (a supporter of the Republican Administration). The bands, organizations and dignitaries participating in the 10 a.m. procession from town to cemetery are named in order. Arriving at the cemetery, the President and members of his Cabinet were greeted by an audience estimated at 15,000 or more. “The immense crowd being interspersed with chief marshals, aids, and officers…, who moved on horseback through the throng, endeavoring to restore order among the excited and swaying multitude. …The appearance of the President on the stand was the signal for repeated cheers and enthusiasm.”

The description mentions the opening prayer House of Representatives Chaplain Stockton, and that Ward Lamon, Chief Marshal of the event, read a letter of regret from General Winfield Scott. The article goes on to quote some parts of Everett’s speech, said to have lasted two hours.

After naming some of the distinguished persons, such as governors and generals, on the platform, the Spectator/Inquirer article says Lamon introduced the President to “enthusiastic cheering.” The paper quotes Lincoln’s entire address, lasting just a few minutes. It states: “Mr. Lincoln sat down amid a scene of wild and lengthened excitement.” Other accounts, such as that in the pro-Lincoln Adams Sentinel, even note where applause occurred during the speech, refuting some later assertions that the listeners did not appreciate the importance of the address at the time. Another home-town newspaper, the Gettysburg Compiler, was anti-Abolitionist, but its coverage of the event is somewhat similar to that of the Sentinel, including reporting Lincoln’s Address in full, but it tones down descriptions of the crowd’s enthusiasm for the President. Both Gettysburg papers might have used an account from one of the larger northern newspapers, such as the Inquirer or the New York Times as a source or tapped into the story filed by AP correspondent Joseph Gilbert. Both Gettysburg newspaper accounts estimate the crowd as 20,000 to 40,000 attendees, twice the number as others.

What did the York Gazette report on the dedication in its issue of November 24th? Not much. The Gazette didn’t deviate from its usual stance, anti-Abolitionism and anti-Lincoln Administration, while still being supportive of the Union soldiers in the field. The main story, on both the front page and second page of the Gazette that day, was on the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision declaring the conscription law unconstitutional

One Gazette article castigates Washington as “gay city” in the midst of war, criticizing balls at the White House and Mrs. Lincoln’s extravagant dress, while soldiers are dying and prices are high because of the war. Another quotes the Philadelphia Age (Democrat), strongly criticizing the President for briefly joking with citizens outside the Wills house the night before the cemetery dedication.

The Gazette’s entire article on the dedication is 288 words long. The paragraph summing up Everett’s speech is exactly the same as other newspaper accounts, so it surely had access to the rest of the proceedings and Lincoln’s words, but chose not to repeat them. The Gazette account reads:

The National Cemetery–Consecration Ceremonies at Gettysburg–Military and Civic Procession.

The ceremony of consecration at the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pa., where the bodies of the Union soldiers killed in the recent terrible battle at that place have been deposited, took place on Thursday last, in accordance with previous arrangements.

The day was a delightful one and the event drew together an immense concourse of persons from various sections of the country. Among the distinguished persons in attendance were President Lincoln and several members of his Cabinet, Foreign Ministers, Governors of a number of the States, and many others holding official and eminent private and social positions.

The military and civic procession was a most imposing one. It was under the charge of Ward H. Lamon, Esq., the United States marshal of the District of Columbia, as chief marshal. Maj. Gen. Couch had command of the military.–The procession formed in the town of Gettysburg during the morning, and proceeded to the Cemetery grounds, in the order described in the programme. Several excellent bands of music were interspersed throughout the procession. Arriving at the Cemetery grounds, the ceremonies were commenced with an impressive prayer by the Rev. Thos. H. Stockton. The Hon. Edward Everett, of Massachusetts, the orator of the day, was then introduced. Mr. Everett’s address was an exceeding elaborate and ornate production, embellished by classical allusions, brilliant rhetorical passages, and historical parallels illustrative of the existing conflict in the United States.

At the conclusion of Mr. Everett’s address, the dedicatory ceremony was appropriately performed by President Lincoln. A dirge followed, and soon after the procession returned to Gettysburg, and the assembled thousands hastened to the cars and other conveyances in order to reach their respective homes.”

The Gazette was brief, but it at least acknowledged President Lincoln.

After I had written the column above, I found that fellow blogger Stephen Smith had also looked at contemporary newspaper coverage of the cemetery dedication. Here is a link to his “Yorks Past” post of a few months ago, comparing the November 20, 1863 National Republican, a Washington, D.C. newspaper with the York Gazette.

I also found an online link to a recent Master’s Thesis examining Virginia’s response to the Gettysburg Address from 1863 to 1963. The southern response was quite different, both at the time and for many years to come.