The Long Shadow of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. By Jared Peatman. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2013. 244 pp.
The question of how audiences have responded to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address has been debated almost from the moment Lincoln sat down after uttering the words for which he would ultimately become best known. Indeed, the issue of how the attendees present at the address initially reacted has been contested by scholars of Lincoln, in general, and of the Gettysburg Address, in particular. In his new book, The Long Shadow of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Jared Peatman is less concerned with the immediate reaction to the address, though he considers that topic, than with how Lincoln's address has been interpreted and used (and abused) by later generations of Americans and by people throughout the world. In short, Peatman examines the Gettysburg Address as a study in historical memory, and, in doing so, he puts forward an argument--written in clear, jargon-free prose, and rooted in extensive primary source research and in the relevant secondary literature--that is ultimately convincing.
Peatman argues that there were (and have always been) essentially two distinct concepts at the heart of the address: what Peatman refers to as "equality," as articulated in the words "all men are created equal" that Lincoln quoted from the Declaration of Independence in his opening sentence; and what he calls "democracy," as expressed in the famous peroration "government of the people, by the people, for the people." For the first hundred years after the address, speakers, writers, and audiences mostly fixated--though for various reasons, differing over time and place--on "democracy" while largely eschewing "equality," racial equality in particular, and its more radical connotations. Peatman maintains that Lincoln intended for these two concepts to be understood together, but later generations, armed with their own agenda, have instead chosen to focus on democracy, the safer of the two concepts.
Not until the civil rights movement, particularly during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Peatman argues, did the equality component of the address, and its radical implications, come to be fully appreciated. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, effectively began his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963 by paraphrasing Lincoln's own opening with the words "Five score years ago." Peatman shows that this process of rediscovery was also driven by...