Response to a Serenade
President Abraham Lincoln made these informal remarks a few days after two important Union victories. Earlier that day he received General Grant’s dispatch announcing the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Later on he appeared dejected during a Cabinet meeting because General Meade failed to pursue Lee after the battle of Gettysburg. Lincoln’s audience this evening was a crowd outside the White House, accompanied by a band. Unknowingly, they all got a foretaste of the Gettysburg Address, to be delivered four months later in southern Pennsylvania.
July 7, 1863
I am very glad indeed to see you to-night, and yet I will not say I thank you for this call, but I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called. How long ago is it — eighty odd years — since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.” That was the birthday of the United States of America. Since then the Fourth of July has had several peculiar recognitions. The two most distinguished men in the framing and support of the Declaration were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams — the one having penned it and the other sustained it the most forcibly in debate — the only two of the fifty-five who sustained it being elected President of the United States. Precisely fifty years after they put their hands to the paper it pleased Almighty God to take both from the stage of action. This was indeed an extraordinary and remarkable event in our history. Another President, five years after, was called from this stage of existence on the same day and month of the year; and now, on this last Fourth of July just passed, when we havae a gigantic Rebellion, at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow the principle that all men are created equal, we have the surrender of a most powerful position and army on that very day, and not only so, but in a succession of battles in Pennsylvania, near to us, through three days, so rapidly fought that they might be called one great battle on the 1st, 2d, and 3d of the month of July; and on the 4th the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal, “turned tail” and ran. Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme, and the occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the occasion.
I would like to speak in terms of praise due to the many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the war. There are trying occasions, not only in success, but for the want of success. I dislike to mention the name of one single officer, lest I might do wrong to those I might forget. Recent events bring up glorious names, and particularly prominent ones, but these I will not mention. Having said this much, I will now take the music.
Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.