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 »
27TH AMENDMENT
Congress Can’t Seem Not to Pay Itself
2 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Rep. Dave Young can't even refuse his own paycheck. The Iowa Republican is trying to make a point that if Congress can't pass a budget (it's already missed the April 15 deadline) then it shouldn't be paid. But, he's been informed, the 27th Amendment prohibits him from refusing his own pay. "Young’s efforts to dock his own pay, however, are duck soup compared to his larger goal: docking the pay of every lawmaker when Congress drops the budget ball." His bill to stiff his colleagues has only mustered the support of three of them. Another bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), has about three dozen co-sponsors.

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Far Away from Cleveland is the California GOP Staying?
3 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Sixty miles away, in Sandusky, Ohio. "We're pretty bitter about that," said Harmeet Dhillon, vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party. "It sucks to be California, we're like the ugly stepchild. They need us for our cash and our donors, they don't need us for anything else."

ATTORNEY MAY RELEASE THEM ANYWAY
SCOTUS Will Not Allow ‘DC Madam’ Phone Records to Be Released
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Anyone looking forward to seeing some boldfaced names on the client list of the late Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the "DC Madam," will have to wait a little longer. "The Supreme Court announced Monday it would not intervene to allow" the release of her phone records, "despite one of her former attorneys claiming the records are “very relevant” to the presidential election. Though he has repeatedly threatened to release the records if courts do not modify a 2007 restraining order, Montgomery Blair Sibley tells U.S. News he’s not quite sure what he now will do."

Source:
DOWN TO THE WIRE
Sanders Looks to Right the Ship in Indiana
19 hours ago
THE LATEST

Hillary Clinton may have the Democratic nomination sewn up, but Bernie Sanders apparently isn't buying it. Buoyed by a poll showing them in a "virtual tie," Sanders is "holding three rallies on the final day before the state primary and hoping to pull off a win after a tough week of election losses and campaign layoffs." 

Source:
‘SPOOKED’ IN NORTH DAKOTA
Cruz Delegates Having Second Thoughts?
23 hours ago
THE LATEST

As unbound delegates pledged to Ted Cruz watch him "struggle to tread water in a primary increasingly dominated by Trump, many of them, wary of a bitter convention battle that could rend the party at its seams, are rethinking their commitment to the Texas senator."

Source:
×