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 »
PLAN C?
Senate Looks to Pass “Skinny Repeal” Then Negotiate with House
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Senate GOP leaders picked up support Wednesday for their plan to pass a scaled-back bill to repeal a handful of elements in the current health law, and then open negotiations with House Republicans to try to bring together their two very different bills."

Source:
“CLEAN REPEAL”
Senate Votes Down Repeal without Replace
2 days ago
THE LATEST
TURNED OVER NOTES
Manafort Testifies in Closed Session
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Paul Manafort, who served as a top aide to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, on Tuesday provided congressional investigators notes he took during a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer that has emerged as a focus in the investigation of Russian interference in the election. Manafort’s submission, which came as he was interviewed in a closed session by staff members for the Senate Intelligence Committee, could offer a key contemporaneous account of the June 2016 session."

Source:
PENCE BREAKS THE TIE
Senate Will Debate House Bill
3 days ago
THE LATEST

By the narrowest of margins, the Senate voted 51-50 this afternoon to begin debate on the House's legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins defected from the GOP, but Vice President Pence broke a tie. Sen. John McCain returned from brain surgery to cast his vote.

Source:
MURKOWSKI, COLLINS VOTE NAY
Republicans Reach 50 Votes to Proceed on Health Bill
3 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

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.

Login