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
Add to Briefcase
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 »
NRA Chief: Leftist Protesters Are Paid
2 days ago
Trump Still on Campaign Rhetoric
2 days ago
Trump Rails On Obamacare
2 days ago

After spending a few minutes re-litigating the Democratic primary, Donald Trump turned his focus to Obamacare. “I inherited a mess, believe me. We also inherited a failed healthcare law that threatens our medical system with absolute and total catastrophe” he said. “I’ve been watching and nobody says it, but Obamacare doesn’t work.” He finished, "so we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare."

Trump Goes After The Media
2 days ago

Donald Trump lobbed his first attack at the “dishonest media” about a minute into his speech, saying that the media would not appropriately cover the standing ovation that he received. “We are fighting the fake news,” he said, before doubling down on his previous claim that the press is “the enemy of the people." However, he made a distinction, saying that he doesn't think all media is the enemy, just the "fake news."

Report: Trump Asked FBI to Deny Russia Stories
2 days ago

"The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN. But a White House official said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.