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 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.

Live From Gettysburg Address Sesquicentennial

Originally published on on November 19, 2013.

It was quiet in Gettysburg yesterday afternoon. My covivant and I stopped at the National Cemetery around 4:00 and only a couple of people were there.  Plastic chairs were already set up facing the podium.  A large screen was set up in the field near Meade's Headquarters where the ceremonies will be simulcast for the overflow crowd.  That would be the bunch who do not have the foresight to get there at 7:00 AM for the ceremonies that begin in earnest at 10:00 AM.  There will be music starting at 8:30. 

 The rangers were not giving out attendance estimates.  They had been as high as 30,000 to 40,000 when it was expected that President Obama would attend. On the one hand it would have entirely fitting for our President to be there. On the other hand, it would probably be a logistical nightmare.

The Visitor Center was abuzz with set up for a panel discussion - These Honored Dead: Death And Rebirth In The Civil War - preceded by book and DVD signing by Ric Burns and Drew Gilpin Faust, author of This Republic of Suffering.  When we got there I resisted the temptation to buy one of the books that I might not get around to reading.  I really felt proud of myself for not adding to accumulation from when we were here for the 150th Anniversary of the battle.  On the way in though we had been chatting with Bob Korkuc. He told us that he was working on a kind of biography of a New Hampshire soldier named Bernie Harding, which is nice.  Then he had to go and tell me about the book that he had already had published Finding A Fallen Hero - Death Of A Ball Turret Gunner in which he describes his efforts to find out exactly what happened to his uncle Anthony Korkuc who was part of the crew of one of the 97 B-17s lost during Big Week in February 1944, which according to the infallible source firmly established Allied air superiority in the skies over Germany.  If you don't see the connection to Gettysburg, you lack historic imagination.  At any rate, I felt compelled to order it on amazon when we got back to the hotel, so I did not escape without buying a book after all.

There were representative of the Confederation of Union Generals at the book signing including a Joshua Chamberlain.  He is the third Joshua Chamberlain I have met this year.  He really has the look.  There is a genetic advantage.  His name is Tom Chamberlain and is a cousin.

Rather than staying for the panel discussion, CV and I went to the event at David Wills house in the center of town.  David Wills was the lawyer charged with the creation of the creation of the National Cemetery. President Lincoln stayed at his house the night before the dedication ceremony.  It was a short walk to the train station.  We got there just as a Lincoln re-enactor was arriving, presumably James Getty who will be reenacting the address in a couple of hours.  There is a picture in this story from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. We chatted a bit with the reporter Mike Wereschagin.  He had actually read my coverage of the battle.  I'm starting to feel like a real journalist, which would be nice since then I would be over in the Media tent rather than on a folding chair in front of the podium as I write this.

"President's Lincoln's Own Band" was performing at the Wills house.  The Band is composed of the musicians who performed in the movie Lincoln wearing the same uniforms that they wore in the movie. CV and I got to chat with them last night at dinner in the hotel and this morning at breakfast.  Apparently, the cold presents problems for them beyond discomfort as the larger instruments warm up more slowly which puts them out of tune.  The band will be performing this morning at the Ceremony.  The Marine Corps Band will be playing the National Anthem.  It was President Lincoln that started the tradition of the special relationship between the Presidency and the Marine Corps Band.

As we arrived I started chatting with a big fellow.  He said he was here out of his love for the Constitution.  We didn't create a disturbance or anything, but he got me going just a little, because this morning is about the Declaration.

As I finish this up it is about 8:00 AM and CV and I are crammed into the plastic chairs in front of the podium.  She is giving me a little bit of a hard time because there are still some open seats.  Around us are people from Pittsburgh, Illinois and Boston.  The musical prelude will start in about an hour.  I'm not the only one here who hopes that the President will surprise us and show up anyway, but it is not that likely.
You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa.

I Really Missed President Obama At Gettysburg Address Sesquicentennial

Roughly a year later I have been republishing my forbes Sesquicentennial real time posts.  This one went up at the end of October in anticipation of the Gettysburg Address Sesquicentennial under a slightly different title.  There was bit of a flap about the President not attending, but if you know the layout of Gettysburg it was probably a blessing for the rest of us.  He was represented quite well at the ceremony.   

In the last Presidential election, I knew my candidate, Jill Stein, was not going to win.  I was comforted by the belief that at the Sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address, we would have either a member of Mr. Lincoln's party, a party which might take some time in the coming month to reflect on its roots in the struggle for human equality, or our first African-American President attending the event.  Being inclined towards grandiosity, I even started a We The People petition to have all our living Presidents attend.  That would give us two members of Mr. Lincoln's party, three former governors of states then in rebellion and an honest to goodness war hero to complement our first African-American President, who is from Illinois.
So I was a little disappointed by the Park Service announcement this morning
Update on Dedication Day -
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson will share the keynote speaker role on November 19, for the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. President Obama will not attend and the Secretary of Interior will represent the administration. This year’s Dedication Day ceremony will observe the 150th ...Anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The ceremony takes place at 10 a.m. in the Soldiers' National Cemetery and is sponsored by Gettysburg National Military Park, the Gettysburg Foundation, the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania and Gettysburg College.The event also features the U.S. Marine Band; “President Lincoln’s Own Band” from the movie, Lincoln; Governor Tom Corbett; a reading of the Gettysburg Address by Lincoln portrayer James Getty; and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will administer the Oath of Allegiance to sixteen new citizens.
On the bright side, it will probably be easier to get around.
The commemoration of the Gettysburg address is an invitation to look at our real roots.  Many people view the Constitution as our founding document.  I disagree, as did President Lincoln. Our founding document is the Declaration of Independence. Other than the unfortunate failure to use gender neutral language these words don't need much in the way of amendment:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Reading the Federalist Papers, I take away the notion that if the Founders started from scratch today, they would come up with something different.  If the country were a church, the Declaration would be our creed.  The Constitution would be the by-laws.  That's not to say that we should go messing with the Constitution too much.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
the Constitution itself, is by no means unitary; it is a provisional compromise between the ideal political principle of the Declaration, and the actual selfishness of the people North and South.
The Supreme Court in the Dredd Scott decision tried to resolve the contradiction between a Constitution that talked of returning people held to service or labor to their masters and the principles of the Declaration.  It resolves the dilemma by saying that when we said "We the People" we didn't mean "them".
A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a “citizen” within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its “people or citizens.”
The only two clauses in the Constitution which point to this race treat them as persons whom it was morally lawfully to deal in as articles of property and to hold as slaves.
My covivant and I were at Gettysburg for the Sesquicentennial of the battle.  One of the things that was mentioned several times was that the Battle of Gettysburg was the worst man-made disaster in the history of the Americas.  The armies moved out quickly leaving a small community to deal with thousands and thousands of dead bodies and wounded soldiers.  It was up to the President to wring some meaning out of the tragedy.  As Wills wrote:
Lincoln was able to achieve the loftiness, ideality, and brevity of the Gettysburg Address because he had spent a good part of the 1850s repeatedly relating all the most sensitive issues of the day to the Declaration’s supreme principle. If all men are created equal, they cannot be property.
There were people at the time who thought Lincoln had pulled a fast one with the address
It was to uphold this constitution, and the Union created by it, that our officers and soldiers gave their lives at Gettysburg. How dare he, then, standing on their graves, misstate the cause for which they died, and libel the statesmen who founded the government? They were men possessing too much self-respect to declare that negroes were their equals, or were entitled to equal privileges.
Nonetheless, his interpretation that we are dedicated to "the proposition that all men are created equal" has stood the test of time.

It is too bad that President Obama cannot make the ceremony, but just by being our President on that day, he is doing his part to commemorate the promise.

As John McCain said in perhaps one of the classiest concession speeches ever:
A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to visit -- to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters.  America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time.  There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African American to the presidency of the United States.  Let there be no reason now -- (cheers, applause) -- let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.  (Cheers, applause.)
You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa.