Sunday, November 23, 2014

Justice Antonin Scalia Led High Point Of Gettysburg Ceremonies

Originally published on forbes.con on November 20, 2103.  This is the last of the forbes.com sesquicentennial posts, but not my last word on the Sesquicentennial.

When last you heard from me my covivant was chiding me for subjecting us to an extra hour or so of chilly weather sitting in plastic chairs waiting for the "Dedication Day" ceremonies to commence.  It is an annual event in Gettysburg, but of course this was very special because it is the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the cemetery at which Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.  A couple of the speakers noted the irony of Lincoln's prediction- "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."-, since his words are so well remembered.
I was quite moved overall by the ceremony.  After all, any event that finishes up with the Marine Corps Band playing the Stars and Stripes Forever has to be a good event.

There was a great musical prelude starting with the Gettysburg High School Ceremonial Brass Band, dressed in Civil War period style uniforms, then "President Lincoln's Own Band", a group formed as a result of Spielberg's movie Lincoln, who re-enact the 1860s Marine Corps Band and finally the actual Marine Corps Band, which we were told, having been founded in 1798, is the oldest professional music organization in the United States.  People were talking through the prelude and there was even somebody with a device playing something annoying.  CV continued to read her book, which might have been distressing, but it was part of the Repairman Jack series, so I am inclined to let it pass.

As the 11th PA Volunteer Infantry Color Guard was presenting the colors, the Battle Hymn of the Republic was played.   The singing was barely audible.  Other than the chorus, those verses are not that well known.  People my age are more likely to know some sort of parody that will include something like "he was flying down the highway in a 47 Ford."  Then came the National Anthem, which this crowd of several thousand knew pretty well.  I found it pretty moving and was glad that there was no wise guy who yelled "Play ball" afterwards.

The various guests were introduced including a surprise addition.  He was not listed in the program anyway.  That would be Antonin Scalia.  Justice Scalia's  part was towards the end and actually received the only standing ovation.  We'll get to that.  I am not going to give you a total blow by blow, particularly since I am not such a great note taker.  Besides the actual reenactment of the Gettysburg address there were two attempts to model it.  One was by Lauren Pyfer, a junior at Upper Dublin High School who had won a competition called In Lincoln's Footsteps.  She updated the "conceived in liberty" metaphor to the idea that liberty and equality are part of the country's genetic make-up.  The logic flowed pretty well from there. I'm going to have to hunt down a copy.  The other was by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell who expressed concern for the comfort of the crowd in keeping it short.

We heard from Scott Gordon Perry whose congressional district includes Gettysburg and Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey - Republicans all.  I was amazed at the rhetorical tri-fecta they achieved.  I did not hear any reference to equality from any of them.  Perry even managed a little bit of a nod to the neo-confederates like it wasn't really that clear what all that fighting was about back in July.  Governor Tom Corbett, also a Republican, did mention something about equality for all.

Historian James McPherson's speech was quite good.  He started with the little tidbit that the day was also the 230th anniversary of the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the Revolutionary War.  He referred to the Battle of Gettysburg as the hinge of fate, not just of the United States, but also the world.  He invited us to ponder how 20th Century Europe would have fared without the United States being, you know, united.
Even though the President did not attend we did get words from him - two sets actually.  The second was recorded and was part of the ceremony Scalia starred in.  The first set was delivered by Ranger Morgan Brooks.  Something that was explained to me once is that all the uniformed Park Service people wear the same uniform and are called rangers.  So you can't really tell right off a naturalist from an historian.  Not so the law enforcement rangers.  The law enforcement rangers, though wearing the same uniform, are also packing heat and can arrest you if you need arresting.  Ranger Brooks is a law enforcement ranger.  I don't think they explained why she was given the honor of delivering the President's words.  It was a good thing, though, since without her and Reverend Nelson Strobert who delivered the benediction, it was a pretty white crowd up on the platform.

The President's Message

President Obama, through Ranger Brooks, told us that when things are quiet in the White House he will linger in an office that Lincoln used that includes a copy of the address written in Lincoln's hand. There was some real eloquence in the President's message
I linger on these few words that have helped define our American experiment: "a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
Through the lines of weariness etched in his face, we know Lincoln grasped, perhaps more than anyone, the burdens required to give these words meaning. He knew that even a self evident truth was not self executing; that blood drawn by the lash was an affront to our ideals; that blood drawn by the sword was in painful service to those same ideals.
I like that contrast of self evident versus self executing.  I also like the reference to the Second Inaugural, which is actually an even better speech than the Gettysburg Address.  This is the context that the President Obama was drawing from:
The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
President Obama also gave us a moment reminiscent of Doris Kearns Goodwin's performance on July 1:
This quintessentially self made man, fierce in his belief in honest work and the striving spirit at the heart of America, believed that it falls to each generation, collectively, to share in that toil and sacrifice.
Through cold war and world war, through industrial revolutions and technological transformations, through movements for civil rights and women's rights and workers rights and gay rights, we have.
Talk like that drove my Central Florida friends out early on July 1.  The people who left early from my section yesterday were part of a bus tour with orders to only stay through the address reenactment.

Starring Antonin Scalia

The part of the ceremony that provoked the most positive crowd reaction was led by Justice Scalia.  I doubt that picking him for the job was an offset to that gay rights comment, but you never know.  Sixteen people from thirteen different countries were sworn in as American citizens.  It was mentioned that Justice Scalia's father was an immigrant.  He talked about what great opportunities there are in America and that his grandmother wanted him to grow up to President, so he was a bit of a let down.  I thought it was a little insensitive to bring up about the only thing that the new citizens did not just become eligible for, but nobody seemed to mind.  Among the countries listed were Canada and the United Kingdom.  I wonder if they are fleeing the horrors of national health care.  Also included was Burkina Faso, which I have to confess I had never heard of.  It turns out that it was called the Republic of Upper Volta back when I was collecting stamps, which is the source of much of my lamentably deficient geographic knowledge.  When our new fellow Americans were done abjuring all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign princes or potentates, the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
This is a great country.

You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa.