The Gettysburg Address has long stood as a paragon of presidential oratory. Yet in spite of the monumental significance of this diminutive speech, there is much in the historical record that remains unknown and, perhaps, unknowable. Did Abraham Lincoln write the speech on the back of a men’s room door inside a Wawa? Was the floral aroma noted in some contemporary accounts of the speech simply the effect of Lincoln stuffing his stovepipe hat with a generous amount of potpourri? Prior to the speech, did Vice President Hannibal Hamlin warm up the crowd with a karaoke rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”?
While some of these questions may forever be shrouded in the fog of time, there is one more that I have the good fortune as a historian to conclusively answer: Did Lincoln return to Gettysburg in December of 1863 to deliver a second address? After years of toil in the basement of the Gettysburg Public Library, and thanks to some cash deals with a few loose-talking archivists in the dark alley behind said library, I submit to you, dear reader, the fruit of my work.
—Doris Kearns Goodwin, December 2020
Four score and seven years ago Santa Claus brought forth on these city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style, a new nation, conceived in blinking lights and dedicated to the proposition that not all winter celebrations are created equal (definitely not that weird one with the dreidels and the multi-pronged candleholder).
Now we are engaged in a great War on Christmas, testing whether this nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war in the bloodstained seasonal section of the Gettysburg Target. We have come to dedicate a portion of aisle H47, marked with M&M-filled candy canes and a few mechanical dancing Santas, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that Christmas might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, up to and including our valiant retribution against the Girshfeld family who came in looking for latke mix one day.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground, except of course by playing a consciousness-altering stream of Christmas songs for the months of November and December without pause. The brave men, whose battle cries of “Merry Christmas” still echo 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 (to be clear, we say “Merry Christmas”), but it can never forget what they did here. (OK, I’ll give you a hint: it involved thousands of brave men bravely putting on military-issue sexy Santa costumes, bravely drinking some spiked eggnog, and bravely singing Santa Baby for any shopper who selected a generic wintry gift card instead of an overtly Christmas one.)
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the merry little Christmas which they, who fought back valiantly against ecumenical expressions of seasonal joy, have thus far so nobly advanced. That includes nobly marching into the stationery aisle and nobly placing the two greeting cards for Dreidel Day into the section for the death of a pet. 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 don our gay apparel—that we here highly resolve to troll the ancient Yuletide carol—that this Target, under God, shall begin to look a lot like Christmas—that Christmas of the Christmas, by the Christmas, for the Christmas, shall not perish from the Christmas.