<< The Body Politic

Allen Guelzo on Gettysburg

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Home, Sweet Home, c. 1863Historian Allen Guelzo has a powerful essay on the meaning of Gettysburg in the Wall Street Journal today:

Among my great-grandfather’s papers, carefully set down in his small, gnarled handwriting, is a copy of the Gettysburg Address. When Lincoln delivered the speech, my great-grandfather was 10 years old and living in Sweden, the illegitimate son of an aristocrat. That inconvenient birth exposed him to the haphazardness of privilege—for although he was raised, petted and groomed by his father’s family, he soon understood that he would never have any real standing in that family or their world.

Over their protests, he left Sweden in his 20s, arriving penniless in New York in 1879 but still in possession of the American president’s words, the promise of a new nation founded on the proposition that all men are created equal, where no one—not even a baron’s bastard—was obliged to remove his cap when his betters rode by.

For John Anderson (the name he assumed when he moved to Philadelphia in the 1880s), the Gettysburg Address was the title-deed to his new world. Little did he realize how very narrowly that deed had come to being lost.

Read the whole thing, and don’t miss Guelzo’s lecture on the battle at AEI.