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July 04, 2008

Comments

I hadn't read this for quite a while and forgotten just how well Lincoln expressed himself, even at age 28. The entire Address is worth a careful read. Thanks for this July 4th gift.

I agree - Lincoln's Lyceum Address is definitely a RTWT, in spades: it is astonishing how relevant his commentary, even at the distance of 170 years is to current events. I especially liked this bit:

Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.

Here then, is one point at which danger may be expected.

The question recurs, "how shall we fortify against it?" The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

Thanks for a great Fourth-of-July read!

Thanks Hilzoy. Andy would have loved this, Lincoln was his favorite president. One brilliant man admiring another.

Wes

Splendid. Thank you hilzoy!

I disagree, the quote from Lincoln is an example of how not to write, or speak.

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use a long word where a short one will do. Etc.

The purpose of the speech was to impress, rather than inform, and that's wrong.

Wes: I'm glad. (But I thought John Adams would have given Lincoln some competition?)

I was thinking of him a lot yesterday.

@ now_what:

Have you read much 19th-Century political oratory? Compared to the logorrhetic stem-winders typical of the time, Lincoln's Lyceum Address is a masterpiece of brevity and conciseness (although people in the 1800s DO seem to have had amazing attention-spans compared to nowadays)!

I think, living in the Computer Age, we're so used to quick soundbites and fast-paced YouTube clips that we sometimes forget what it must have been like to live in a era when the live spoken word was the only means of audio communication.

And Old Abe seems to have been pretty conscious of his audience's endurance: famously, his Gettysburg Address typically clocks in at about 2-1/2 minutes to recite: the main speaker at Gettysburg that day, Edward Everett, took nearly two hours to get through his...

"If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use a long word where a short one will do. Etc."

Strunk and White are very useful guides for certain kinds of writing.

Anyone who would take The Elements of Style as a guide for all types of writing is missing the point.

"The purpose of the speech was to impress, rather than inform, and that's wrong."

You misspelled "inspire."

And wrong: what, objectively? According to what measure? Why?

"Have you read much 19th-Century political oratory?"

Heck: Faulkner, Twain, Shakespeare, Churchill, Trollope, Barth, Wolfe (pick any three), the list is infinite: all "wrong."

Good to know.

The purpose of the speech was to impress, rather than inform, and that's wrong.

Suppose this critique is valid. What does it say about Lincoln's audience? Americans, back then, seem to have appreciated what we nowadays consider excessively high-fallutin' oratory. They understood the difference between eloquence and 'elitism'. Or maybe they were themselves 'elitist' in the sense of preferring their would-be leaders to actually be 'elite' enough to talk like Lincoln talked. Either way, they bequeathed a flourishing nation to us. It remains to be seen whether we modern Americans, who equate eloquence with pomposity and articulate language with elitist pretense, shall bequeath a flourishing or a declining nation to our posterity.

- TP

Strunk and White are very useful guides for certain kinds of writing.

That was NOT advice from Strunk and White. That was advice from the shot-through-the-neck brigade.

And wrong: what, objectively? According to what measure? Why?

According to me. This is my life. I get to say what I please.

"According to me. This is my life. I get to say what I please."

Indeed.

Of course, you're wrong.

So, Lincoln was like the Obama of the nineteenth century, right?

now_what will like this. It's real concise.

Also concisified:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

It is striking how Lincoln expresses his patriotism by making invidious comparative claims: the United States is BETTER than all other countries because it has (i) a larger territory, (ii) more fertile soil, (iii) a better climate, and (iv) political institutions more conducive to liberty, etc., etc.; indeed, the United States is a GREATER institution than any other in the whole of history -- with the sole exception of the Church that Jesus Christ founded when he said to Peter "on this rock will I build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

Yet Lincoln knew perfectly well, as he was speaking those words, that millions of human beings were held as slaves in the United States. By contrast, Britain had put an end to the Transatlantic slave trade 31 years before, with the Slave Trade Act of 1807, and had abolished slavery throughout the British Empire 5 years before, with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

I submit that it should not have seemed so obvious to Lincoln that those invidious comparative claims were true. This is NOT to say that it would be true to make any such invidious comparative claims on behalf of any other country -- let alone Britain, whose political institutions (and whose climate....) were clearly defective in many, many ways. Nor is it to seek to denigrate Lincoln's astonishing achievements. But it is to complain about the fact that so many contemporary Americans are so quick to express their patriotism by echoing Lincoln's invidious comparative claims.

If nothing else, it isn't such a good way to stay friends with the rest of the world to keep continually trumpeting about how much better your country than theirs!

Jesse Helms also left this world this 4th of July, lamented by racists and bigots everywhere for their means of http://bp2.blogger.com/_2dJQxEtZAVo/SG6CmtOkEaI/AAAAAAAAAcE/W2iM3Ukuen0/s1600-h/jesse.jpg>salvation has gone.

It sometimes amazes me what people choose to argue about here.

Thanks for this hilzoy. I hadn’t read it in more than 30 years – long past due.

"According to me. This is my life. I get to say what I please."

Indeed.

Of course, you're wrong.

On the internet, to boot.

(Sheesh. At least BOB is amusing. Worst troll EVA.)

“Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.”

Hi Matt. I hope everybody enjoyed their holiday.

It is now appropriate to note that significant portions of Lincoln’s body of work would be banned from this forum under the new posting rules.

Ralph - the United States is BETTER than all other countries

At the time this was written this assessment was likely shared by a large part of Europe's population, as judged by the emigration patterns. But note that Lincoln, unlike today's politicians, doesn't credit this greatness to himself or to his audience.

Holy moley.

Never read that particular piece of oratory.

Thanks for the 4th of July present, Hilzoy.

Ralph - the United States is BETTER than all other countries

No, sorry, the best country evva is Denmark.">http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=4086092&page=1">Denmark.

"At the time this was written this assessment was likely shared by a large part of Europe's population, as judged by the emigration patterns. "

They were coming voluntarily, and some perhaps expected to benefit from the ongoing land theft program against the Native Americans. Those who went south probably adopted the local attitudes towards the involuntary immigrants, maybe even aspiring to own a few.

As for the speech, it's well-written, truthful in some parts and dishonest in a characteristically American way in others. "We find ourselves in the peaceful possession of the fairest portion of the earth". Yeah, okay, whatever. To his credit, Lincoln did later oppose the Mexican War.

now_what will like this. It's real concise.

The Gettsyburg address was *already* concise. It was 10 sentences in its entirety, and roughly the length of the first paragraph of the monstrosity above.

As for Churchill, we know that he read some of the works of the source of my advice.

I disagree, the quote from Lincoln is an example of how not to write, or speak.

Jeez, Louise.

I think it's safe to say your position here is not widely held. FWIW.

Thanks -

and let me guess. Positions that are not widely held are always... wrong ??? Unwelcome on open minded Blogs ???

OCSteve: It sometimes amazes me what people choose to argue about here.

I dispute that.

and let me guess. Positions that are not widely held are always... wrong ??? Unwelcome on open minded Blogs ???

Nobody's telling now_what to shut up and go away.

The idea of holding 19th C political oratory to the standards of early 20th C essay writing is like telling Mozart his bass figures are too busy. It's like telling Balanchine "enough with the long legged girls already". It's like listening to Captain Beefheart and saying "I don't hear a single".

It's like that.

The response you can expect is somewhere between "I think you miss the point" and "Huh?!?". "Wrong" is not the question. "What are you talking about?" might be closer.

But, now_what et al, by all means fire away.

Thanks -

"and let me guess."

You're not very good at this game.

But, hey, let's try something easier: what number am I thinking of?

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use a long word where a short one will do. Etc.

The purpose of the speech was to impress, rather than inform, and that's wrong.

Lincoln's oldspeak corrected:

Passion pastwise good, presentwise ungood. Reason plusgood. Law plusgood.

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