The Gettysburg Address: The Tweet’s Great-Grandfather

The statue of the 16th president of the US Abraham Lincoln is seen on a cell phone as a person snaps a picture at the Lincoln Memorial on November 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. Today marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's historic Gettysburg Address.
National Journal
Laura Ryan
See more stories about...
Laura Ryan
Nov. 19, 2013, 11:31 a.m.

The 272 words Pres­id­ent Lin­coln spoke at Gettys­burg 150 years ago Tues­day could be con­sidered the great-grand­fath­er of the tweet.

Lin­coln craf­ted his speech with what was then a new tech­no­logy — the tele­graph — in mind. With­in 48 hours, the ad­dress was prin­ted on the front pages of news­pa­pers in Cali­for­nia, achiev­ing his de­sired ef­fect.

“Lin­coln was a mas­ter polit­ic­al strategist. He truly un­der­stood what it took to get the mes­sage out to the people,” Peter Schnall, dir­ect­or and pro­du­cer of the PBS doc­u­ment­ary Lin­coln@Gettys­burg, told Wired.

“He knew the speech would be tele­graphed across the na­tion; with­in 48 hours every news­pa­per as far as Cali­for­nia had prin­ted the speech straight on the front page, which is ex­actly what he was aim­ing for. He was us­ing the me­dia of com­mu­nic­a­tion in dif­fer­ent ways than a pres­id­ent had ever done be­fore.”

The Gettys­burg Ad­dress was a con­scious break with tra­di­tion­al forms of Amer­ic­an oratory. Ed­ward Ever­ett, the key­note speak­er at Gettys­burg, spoke for two hours. Lin­coln spoke for sev­en minutes.

Lin­coln used ruth­less pre­ci­sion while writ­ing the speech to make its mean­ing clear and au­thor­it­at­ive, Gary Wills ex­plains in The At­lantic. It is the mod­ern-day equi­val­ent of turn­ing an es­say in­to a tweet.

Without pre­ced­ent to guide him, Lin­coln em­braced the new tech­no­logy, and de­ployed it adroitly to rally Uni­on com­mand­ers on the front lines in (al­most) real-time and com­mu­nic­ate his vis­ion to the Amer­ic­an pub­lic.

“Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln de­veloped the mod­ern mod­el of elec­tron­ic lead­er­ship out of ne­ces­sity, without text or tu­tor in the midst of a na­tion­al calam­ity,” wrote Tom Wheel­er, the new chair­man of the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion and a his­tor­i­an, who au­thored the book Mr. Lin­coln’s T-Mails. “To sug­gest that Lin­coln’s tele­grams are some­how ‘les­sons’ to be fol­lowed in our use of emails would be to de­mean them, the reas­on they ex­ist in the first place, and their au­thor. However, I have found that my ex­per­i­ence read­ing Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln’s t-mails has made me more thought­ful in my use of emails.”

What We're Following See More »
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
2 days ago

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
3 days ago

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
3 days ago

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
3 days ago
California: It’s Not Over Yet
3 days ago

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.