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- March 4, 1865
It occurred on July 4, , on the State House lawn in Concord. Grant's army had captured Vicksburg, Miss. Marvel treats these events with ambivalence. Lincoln rejoiced that the fall of Vicksburg meant the 'Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea. Then Marvel chides Lincoln as petty for failing to acknowledge Meade's 'crucial victory. But in case some simple soul has not yet divined the cynical, power-hungry nature of the president's heart, Marvel serves up his account of the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln's 'sentimental plea' was 'ingeniously efficient,' appealing to the heart, not the mind, Marvel writes.
By Lincoln's logic, he writes, men should risk their lives to carry on the struggle because so many had already died. If Lincoln was asking, and indeed coercing, other young men to fight, Marvel wonders, why did the president's own son avoid service until the final weeks of the war, when he had a relatively safe posting? This is the lowest of many low blows in The Great Task Remaining. Lincoln himself risked his life daily for the cause, as events proved.
His son was a year-old student in , and the decision to finish college was his, not his father's. In fact, Robert Lincoln did join the army, but even if he hadn't, his experience would hardly expose the Gettysburg Address as a hypocritical con job. Marvel, who is 61 years old, never discloses the source of his bitterness toward Lincoln, but he does leave clues. His melancholy ending and hard-edged epilogue each turn on the death of a Union soldier.
His point is that the unchecked power of the Lincoln administration cost these men - and hundreds of thousands of others - their lives. In this view there is an echo of the anti-authoritarism of the late s.
The draft was as corrupt, unpopular and unfair during the Vietnam era as it had been a century earlier. Lincoln is no Lyndon B. Johnson, with his trumped-up evidence for war, or Richard Nixon, with his secret plan to end the war, but this is how Marvel portrays him. It is a shame to see animosity in play where professional restraint would have served Marvel and his readers so much better. The scope of his project and the effort he has invested in it are awe-inspiring.
Had he simply given new emphasis to the Northern peace Democrats' point of view without swallowing it and inflicting it on his readers, his book would have made an impressive contribution to the vast literature of the war. Even with this exasperating flaw, The Great Task Remaining and its predecessors are worth reading.
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He spoke for less than two minutes, and the entire speech was fewer than words long. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
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The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Opinion was generally divided along political lines, with Republican journalists praising the speech as a heartfelt, classic piece of oratory and Democratic ones deriding it as inadequate and inappropriate for the momentous occasion. In the years to come, the Gettysburg Address would endure as arguably the most-quoted, most-memorized piece of oratory in American history.
The Great Task Remaining: The Third Year of Lincoln's War
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