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1863 December 12: Edward Everett’s Gettysburg Address

December 15, 2013

Most of The Polk County Press‘ December 12, 1863, front page is filled with Edward Everett’s speech given on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the soldiers cemetery at Gettysburg.  It prints much, but not all of his address.  For the full text, see the Voices of Democracy: The U.S. Oratory Project website.

The Press summarized the first 47 paragraphs.  Actual speech text starts in the section labeled “Reconstruction.”  The section labels were added by the Press.

The Soldiers’ Cemetery at Gettysburg.


The Soldiers’ Cemetery at Gettysburg was formally dedicated.  The President, Secretary Seward [William H. Seward] and others made brief addresses, and an oration was delivered by Edward Everett.

Mr. Everett began his address with a description of the honors bestowed by the Athenians upon their heroes who fell in battle ;  remarking that he felt, as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice their lives that their fellow men may live in safety.

After recounting at length the history of the three days at Gettysburg, and the events immediately proceeding and following the great battles, Mr. Everett proceeded to show the fallacy of the rebel attempts to diminish the magnitude of the disaster which befell Lee’s [Robert E. Lee] army, and then passed to a consideration of the responsibility of the South for the ravages of the war.  He defined the term rebellion, denounced the sophistry of the men who seek to cloak the deformity of their crime by false arguments, and exposed the absurdity of claiming “reserved rights” for the seceded states.


Mr. Everett continued as follows:

“Nor must we be deterred from the vigorous prosecution of the war by the suggestion, continually thrown out by the Rebels and those who sympathize with them, that, however it might have been at an earlier stage, there has been engendered by the operations of the war a state of exasperation and bitterness, which, independent of all reference to the original nature of the matters in controversy, will forever prevent the restoration of the Union, and the return of harmony between the two great sections of the country. This opinion I take to be entirely without foundation.”

“No man can deplore more than I do the miseries of every kind unavoidably incident to war. Who could stand on this spot and call to mind the scenes of the first days of July with any other feeling? A sad foreboding of what would ensue, if war should break out between North and South, has haunted me through life, and led me, perhaps too long, to tread in the path of hopeless compromise, in the fond endeavor to conciliate those who were predetermined not to be conciliated. But it is not true, as is pretended by the Rebels and their sympathizers, that the war has been carried on by the United States without entire regard to those temperaments which are enjoined by the law of nations, by our modern civilization, and by the spirit of Christianity. It would be quite easy to point out, in the recent military history of the leading European powers, acts of violence and cruelty, in the prosecution of their wars, to which no parallel can be found among us. In fact, when we consider the peculiar bitterness with which civil wars are almost invariably waged, we may justly boast of the manner in which the United States have carried on the contest. It is of course impossible to prevent the lawless acts of stragglers and deserters, or the occasional unwarrantable proceedings of subordinates on distant stations; but I do not believe there is, in all history, the record of a civil war of such gigantic dimensions where so little has been done in the spirit of vindictiveness as in this war, by the Government and commanders of the United States; and this notwithstanding the provocation given by the Rebel Government by assuming the responsibility of wretches like Quantrel [sic: William Quantrill], refusing quarter to colored troops, and scourging and selling into slavery free colored men from the North who fall into their hands, by covering the sea with pirates, refusing a just exchange of prisoners, while they crowd their armies with paroled prisoners not exchanged, and starving prisoners of war to death.”

“In the next place, if there are any present who believe, that, in addition to the effect of the military operations of the war, the confiscation acts and emancipation proclamations have embittered the Rebels beyond the possibility of reconciliation, I would request them to reflect that the tone of the Rebel leaders and Rebel press was just as bitter in the first months of the war, nay, before a gun was fired, as it is now. There were speeches made in Congress in the very last session before the outbreak of the Rebellion, so ferocious as to show that their authors were under the influence of a real frenzy. At the present day, if there is any discrimination made by the Confederate press in the affected scorn, hatred, and contumely with which every shade of opinion and sentiment in the loyal States is treated, the bitterest contempt is bestowed upon those at the North who still speak the language of compromise, and who condemn those measures of the administration which are alleged to have rendered the return of peace hopeless.”


“No, my friends, that gracious Providence which overrules all things for the best, ‘from seeming evil still educing good,’ has so constituted our natures, that the violent excitement of the passions in one direction is generally followed by a reaction in an opposite direction, and the sooner for the violence. If it were not so, if injuries inflicted and retaliated of necessity led to new retaliations, with forever accumulating compound interest of revenge, then the world, thousands of years ago, would have been turned into an earthly hell, and the nations of the earth would have been resolved into clans of furies and demons, each forever warring with his neighbor. But it is not so ;  all history teaches a different lesson. The Wars of the Roses in England lasted an entire generation, from the battle of St. Albans in 1455 to that of Bosworth Field in 1485. Speaking of the former, Hume says: ‘This was the first blood spilt in that fatal quarrel, which was not finished in less than a course of thirty years; which was signalized by twelve pitched battles; which opened a scene of extraordinary fierceness and cruelty ;  is computed to have cost the lives of eighty princes of the blood ;  and almost entirely annihilated the ancient nobility of England. The strong attachments which, at that time, men of the same kindred bore to each other, and the vindictive spirit which was considered a point of honor, rendered the great families implacable in their resentments, and widened every moment the breach between the parties.’ Such was the state of things in England under which an entire generation grew up; but when Henry VII, in whom the titles of the two houses were united, went up to London after the Battle of Bosworth Field, to mount the throne, he was everywhere received with joyous acclamations, ‘as one ordained and sent from heaven to put an end to the dissensions’ which had so long afflicted the country.”

“The great Rebellion in England of the seventeenth century, after long and angry premonitions, may be said to have begun with the calling of the Long Parliament in 1640, and to have ended with the return of Charles II, in 1660—twenty years of discord, conflict, and civil war; of confiscation, plunder, havoc ;  a proud hereditary peerage trampled in the dust ;  a national church overturned, its clergy beggared, its most eminent prelate put to death ;  a military despotism established on the ruins of a monarchy which had subsisted seven hundred years, and the legitimate sovereign brought to the block ;  the great families which adhered to the king proscribed, impoverished, ruined ;  prisoners of war sold in slavery in the West Indies, in a word, everything that can embitter and madden contending factions.—Such was the state of things for twenty years, and yet, by no gentle transition, but suddenly, and ‘when the restoration of affairs appeared most hopeless,’ the son of the beheaded sovereign was brought back to his father’s blood-stained throne, with such ‘unexpressible joy’ as led the merry monarch to exclaim ‘he doubted it had been his own fault he had been absent so long, for he saw nobody who did not protest he had ever wished for his return.’  ‘In this wonderful manner,’ says Clarendon, ‘and with this incredible expedition, did God put an end to a rebellion that had raged near twenty years, and had been carried on with all the horrid circumstances of murder, devastation, and parricide, that fire and sword, in the hands of the most wicked men in the world’ (it is a royalist that is speaking) ‘could be instruments of, almost to the desolation of two kingdoms, and the exceeding defacing and deforming of the third.  By these remarkable steps did the merciful hand of God, in this short space of time, not only bind up and heal all those wounds, but even made the scar as undiscernible as, in respect of the deepness, was possible, which was a glorious addition to the deliverance.”

“In Germany, the wars of the Reformation and of Charles V, in the sixteenth century, the Thirty Years’ War in the seventeenth century, the Seven Years’ War in the eighteenth century, not to speak of other less celebrated contests, entailed upon that country all the miseries of intestine strife for more than three centuries. At the close of the last-named war, ‘An officer,’ says Archenholz, ‘rode through seven villages in Hesse, and found in them but one human being.’ More than three hundred principalities, comprehended in the Empire, fermented with the fierce passions of proud and petty states ;  at the commencement of this period the castles of robber counts frowned upon every hill-top ;  a dreadful secret tribunal froze the hearts of men with terror throughout the land ;  religious hatred mingled its bitter poison in the seething caldron of provincial animosity, but of all these deadly enmities between the states of Germany scarcely the memory remains. There is no country in the world in which the sentiment of national brotherhood is stronger.”

“In Italy, on the breaking up of the Roman Empire, society might be said to be resolved into its original elements—into hostile atoms, whose only movement was that of mutual repulsion. Ruthless barbarians had destroyed the old organizations and covered the land with a merciless feudalism. As the new civilization grew up, under the wing of the Church, the noble families and the walled towns fell madly into conflict with each other ;  the secular feud of Pope and Emperor scourged the land ;  province against province ;  city against city ;  street against street, waged remorseless war with each other from father to son, till Dante was able to fill his imaginary hell with the real demons of Italian history. So ferocious had the factions become, that the great poet-exile himself—the glory of his native city and of his native language—was by a decree of the municipality ordered to be burned alive if found in the city of Florence. But these deadly feuds and hatreds yielded to political influences, as the hostile cities were grouped into states under stable governments ;  the lingering traditions of the ancient animosities gradually died away, and now Tuscan and Lombard, Sardinian and Neapolitan, as if to shame the degenerate sons of America, are joining in one cry for a united Italy.”

“In France, not to go back to the civil wars of the League in the sixteenth century and of the Fronde in the seventeenth; not to speak of the dreadful scenes throughout the kingdom which followed the revocation of the edict of Nantes, we have, in the great revolution which commenced at the close of the last century, seen the bloodhounds of civil strife let loose as rarely before in the history of the world. The reign of terror established at Paris stretched its bloody Briarean arms to every city and village in the land, and if the most deadly feuds which ever divided a people had the power to cause permanent alienation and hatred, this surely was the occasion. But far otherwise the fact. In seven years from the fall of Robespierre, the strong arm of the youthful conqueror brought order out of this chaos of crime and woe ;  Jacobins whose hands were scarcely cleansed from the best blood of France met the returning emigrants, whose estates they had confiscated and whose kindred they had dragged to the guillotine, in the Imperial antechambers; and when, after another turn of the wheel of fortune, Louis XVIII was restored to his throne, he took the regicide Fouche who had voted for his brother’s death, to his cabinet and confidence.”


“The people of loyal America will never ask you, sir, to take to your confidence or admit again to a share in the government the hard-hearted men whose cruel lust of power has brought this desolating war upon the land, but there is no personal bitterness felt even against them. They may live, if they can bear to live after wantonly causing the death of so many thousands of their fellow-men ;  they may live in safe obscurity beneath the shelter of the government they have sought to overthrow, or they may fly to the protection of the governments of Europe–some of them are already there, seeking, happily in vain, to obtain the aid of foreign powers in furtherance of their own treason. There let them stay. The humblest dead soldier, that lies cold and stiff in his grave before us, is an object of envy beneath the clods that cover him, in comparison with the living man, I care not with what trumpery credentials he may be furnished, who is willing to grovel at the foot of a foreign throne for assistance in compassing the ruin of his country.”


“But the hour is coming and now is, when the power of the leaders of the Rebellion to delude and inflame must cease. There is no bitterness on the part of the masses. The people of the South are not going to wage an eternal war for the wretched pretexts by which this rebellion is sought to be justified. The bonds that unite us as one People—a substantial community of origin, language, belief, and law (the four great ties that hold the societies of men together,) common national and political interests ;  a common history ;  a common pride in a glorious ancestry ;  a common interest in this great heritage of blessings ;  the very geographical features of the country ;  the mighty rivers that cross the lines of climate, and thus facilitate the interchange of natural and industrial products, while the wonder-working arm of the engineer has leveled the mountain-walls which separate the East and West, compelling your own Alleghanies, my Maryland and Pennsylvania friends, to open wide their everlasting doors to the chariot-wheels of traffic and travel ;  these bonds of union are of perennial force and energy, while the causes of alienation are imaginary, factitious, and transient. The heart of the People, North and South, is for the Union. Indications, too plain to be mistaken, announce the fact, both in the East and the West of the States in rebellion. In North Carolina and Arkansas the fatal charm at length is broken. At Raleigh and Little Rock the dips of honest and brave men are unsealed, and an independent press is unlimbering its artillery. The weary masses of the people are yearning to see the dear old flag again floating upon their capitols, and they sigh for the return of the peace, prosperity, and happiness which they enjoyed under a government whose power was felt only in its blessings.”


“And now, friends, fellow-citizens of Gettysburg and Pennsylvania, and you from remoter States, let me again, as we part, invoke your benediction on these honored graves. You feel, though the occasion is mournful, that it is good to be here. You feel that it was greatly auspicious for the cause of the country, that the men of the East and the men of the West, the men of nineteen sister States, stood side by side, on the perilous ridges of the battle. You now feel it a new bond of union, that they shall lie side by side, till a clarion, louder than that which marshalled them to the combat, shall awake their slumbers. God bless the Union !  It is dearer to us for the blood of brave men which has been shed in its defense. The spots on which they stood and fell ;  these pleasant heights ;  the fertile plain beneath them ;  the thriving village whose streets so lately rang with the strange din of war ;  the fields beyond the ridge, where the noble Reynolds [John F. Reynolds] held the advancing foe at bay, and, while he gave up his own life, assured by his forethought and self-sacrifice the triumph of the two succeeding days  ; the little streams which wind through the hills, on whose banks in after-times the wondering ploughman will turn up, with the rude weapons of savage warfare, the fearful missiles of modern artillery ;  the Seminary Ridge, Peach Orchard Cemetry [sic], Culp, and Wolf Hill, Round Top, little [sic] Round Top, humble names—henceforward dear and famous ;  no lapse of time, no distance of space, shall cause you to be forgotten. ‘The whole earth,’ said Pericles, as he stood over the remains of his fellow-citizens, who had fallen in the first year of the Peloponnesian War, ‘the whole earth is the sepulchre of illustrious men.’

All time he might have added is the millennium of their glory. Surely I would do no injustice to the other noble achievements of the war, which have reflected such honor on both branches of the service, and have entitled the armies and the navy of the United States, their officers and men, to the warmest thanks and the richest rewards which a grateful people can pay. But they, I am sure, will join us in saying, as we bid farewell to the dust of these martyr-heroes, that wheresoever throughout the civilized world the accounts of this great warfare are read, and down to the latest period of recorded time, in the glorious annals of our common country, there will be no brighter page than that which relates THE BATTLES OF GETTYSBURG.”

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