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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Doing the right thing, 150 years later: Paper retracts editorial condemning Gettysburg Address as “silly”

with 5 comments

20091020-gettysburgOkay, so great speechifying isn’t always recognized the first time it’s heard. We’re sure “I Have a Dream” had its detractors at the time. And Homer probably put more than his share of listeners to sleep while reciting the Iliad (that sucker’s LONG, after all).

But when the Patriot & Union, of Pennsylvania, trashed Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for being “silly,” it found itself on the wrong side of history — oratorically and otherwise — before the ink was dry.

But on the 150th anniversary of that great speech — what some consider among the finest ever delivered — the Patriot-News, the modern heirs to the Patriot & Union, have called for a do-over. In a charming editorial, the paper says it is retracting its Nov. 24, 1863 editorial, which also accused Lincoln of being a showboat:

he acted … without sense and without constraint, in a panorama which was gotten up more for his benefit and the benefit of his party than for the glory of the nation and the honor of the dead

Now, however:

We write today in reconsideration of “The Gettysburg Address,” delivered by then-President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the greatest conflict seen on American soil. Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time, called President Lincoln’s words “silly remarks,” deserving “a veil of oblivion,” apparently believing it an indifferent and

In the fullness of time, we have come to a different conclusion. No mere utterance, then or now, could do justice to the soaring heights of language Mr. Lincoln reached that day. By today’s words alone, we cannot exalt, we cannot hallow, we cannot venerate this sacred text, for a grateful nation long ago came to view those words with reverence, without guidance from this chagrined member of the mainstream media.

The world will little note nor long remember our emendation of this institution’s record – but we must do as conscience demands:

In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.

By the way, this now becomes the oldest retraction we’ve covered. Here’s the oldest science-related retraction, clocking in a 27 years, we’re aware of.

The Gettysburg Address has been cited, oh, millions of times, although we didn’t actually check Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

Hat tip: Alice Dreger

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Written by Adam Marcus

November 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm

5 Responses

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  1. I am reminded of the New York Times 1969 “correction” for its 1920 attack on Robert Goddard. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_H._Goddard#Publicity_and_criticism

    Michael Brown

    November 18, 2013 at 3:07 pm

  2. Editing history and opinions of the past is a dangerous endeavor.

    Andrew Brown

    November 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    • There is no editing here. The newspaper simply regretted its error in calling that wonderful speech “silly”.
      The newspaper did not emulate the Ministry of Truth (from “1984”),
      The original opinion and the very late regret, both are part of history.


      November 18, 2013 at 7:55 pm

  3. There is the Vatican “retraction” of its condemnation of Galileo 350+ years after the fact.

    Bob Roehr

    November 18, 2013 at 7:52 pm

  4. Best correction ever candidate in the newpaper category:



    November 19, 2013 at 4:54 am

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