FDR's 1938 Gettysburg Memorial Speech To ”Veterans Of The Blue And The Gray”
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Earlier: FDR, 1942: ”One Of The Greatest Of American Soldiers, Robert E. Lee...

A recent Buzzfeed list of fascinating facts included this:

There were still Civil War veterans alive during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. In fact, in 1938, Roosevelt met with them at a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, at which he gave a speech to dedicate the Eternal Light Peace Memorial. The ceremony was also captured on film and shown on newsreels in movie theaters.

Not mentioned in Buzzfeed: half the 1938 attendees were Confederate veterans.

What you need to know is this Eternal Light Peace Memorial was not a memorial to the Battle of Gettysburg itself, but to the ”1913 Gettysburg reunion for the 50th anniversary of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1913” where veterans of both sides symbolized the national reconciliation with this famous handshake at the ”Bloody Angle”:

The handshake is repeated below in the newsreel featuring a snippet of Roosevelt’s speech.

FDR started his speech addressing first the then Governor of Pennsylvania, and then ”Veterans of the Blue and the Gray,” and the theme was the reconciliation of the two parts of the Historic American Nation.

Address at the Dedication of the Memorial on the Gettysburg Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Governor Earle, Veterans of the Blue and the Gray:

On behalf of the people of the United States I accept this monument in the spirit of brotherhood and peace.

Immortal deeds and immortal words have created here at Gettysburg a shrine of American patriotism. We are encompassed by ”The last full measure of devotion” of many men and by the words in which Abraham Lincoln expressed the simple faith for which they died.

It seldom helps to wonder how a statesman of one generation would surmount the crisis of another. A statesman deals with concrete difficulties—with things which must be done from day to day. Not often can he frame conscious patterns for the far off future.

But the fullness of the stature of Lincoln’s nature and the fundamental conflict which events forced upon his Presidency invite us ever to turn to him for help.

For the issue which he restated here at Gettysburg seventy five years ago will be the continuing issue before this Nation so long as we cling to the purposes for which the Nation was founded—to preserve under the changing conditions of each generation a people’s government for the people’s good.

The task assumes different shapes at different times. Sometimes the threat to popular government comes from political interests, sometimes from economic interests, sometimes we have to beat off all of them together.

But the challenge is always the same—whether each generation facing its own circumstances can summon the practical devotion to attain and retain that greatest good for the greatest number which this government of the people was created to ensure.

Lincoln spoke in solace for all who fought upon this field; and the years have laid their balm upon their wounds. Men who wore the blue and men who wore the gray are here together, a fragment spared by time. They are brought here by the memories of old divided loyalties, but they meet here in united loyalty to a united cause which the unfolding years have made it easier to see.

All of. them we honor, not asking under which flag they fought then—thankful that they stand together under one flag now.

Lincoln was commander-in-chief in this old battle; he wanted above all things to be commander-in-chief of the new peace. He understood that battle there must be; that when a challenge to constituted government is thrown down, the people must in self-defense take it up; that the fight must be fought through to a decision so clear that it is accepted as being beyond recall.

But Lincoln also understood that after such a decision, a democracy should seek peace through a new unity. For a democracy can keep alive only if the settlement of old difficulties clears the ground and transfers energies to face new responsibilities. Never can it have as much ability and purpose as it needs in that striving; the end of battle does not end the infinity of those needs.

That is why Lincoln—commander of a people as well as of an army—asked that his battle end ”with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

To the hurt of those who came after him, Lincoln’s plea was long denied. A generation passed before the new unity became accepted fact.

In later years new needs arose, and with them new tasks, worldwide in their perplexities, their bitterness and their modes of strife. Here in our land we give thanks that, avoiding war, we seek our ends through the peaceful processes of popular government under the Constitution.

It is another conflict, a conflict as fundamental as Lincoln’s, fought not with glint of steel, but with appeals to reason and justice on a thousand fronts—seeking to save for our common country opportunity and security for citizens in a free society.

We are near to winning this battle. In its winning and through the years may we live by the wisdom and the humanity of the heart of Abraham Lincoln.

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