Obama's no-show at Gettysburg event: Snub, or smart?
November 18th, 2013
12:02 PM ET
9 years ago

Obama's no-show at Gettysburg event: Snub, or smart?

(CNN) – As Pennsylvania gears up to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address on Tuesday, one prominent Abraham Lincoln fan won't be in attendance: President Barack Obama.

The National Park Service announced a few weeks ago the President won't be part of the activities commemorating the historic speech, and critics have since assailed Obama for skipping the event.

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"It would be an occasion for him to honor a crucial time in our past, to create a historical bridge to today," Salena Zito, a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer, wrote in a column.

"His dismissal of the request shows a man so detached from the duty of history, from the men who served in the White House before him, that it is unspeakable in its audacity," Zito added. "Ask almost any person in this historic town; even his most ardent supporters here are stunned."

Lesson from Lincoln: Mr. President, you're talking too much

Twenty-four presidents have visited Gettysburg since the summer of 1863 and the sesquicentennial has been a year-long series of events, culminating on Tuesday.

In his place, the White House is sending little known Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who started her Cabinet position just this year.

The York Daily Record noted in an editorial it would only seem natural for the first black President to honor a moment in history known for its "new birth of freedom."

"President Obama could have used this occasion to offer words of healing and reconciliation - as his Illinois forefather once did," the editorial stated, adding that his decision not to come is "unacceptable."

Critics further point to the President's own fondness for Lincoln. Obama, for example, announced his first campaign for President in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln's home is located.

The President also took the oath of office on Lincoln's Bible during both of his inaugurations. And for the first inauguration, he replicated Lincoln's 1861 trip from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C., to assume the presidency.

But Heather Cox Richardson, professor of history at Boston College, said Obama is making the right-though ironic-decision not to go.

The Gettysburg Address, she said, is a re-dedication of the idea of equality that was seized upon in the Declaration of Independence a century earlier. And now, with the country mired in sharp political divisiveness, Richardson said the message of Lincoln's famous speech needs to resonate.

"By not going, President Obama lets that speech stand on its own. If he went, it would all be about him," she said, stressing that his detractors would unfairly have a "field day" trying to hammer Obama for drawing attention to himself on such a symbolic day.

"The themes of the Gettysburg Address are what we really need to focus on," she added. "And in an ironic twist, our first black President can't be present for them."

So what does the White House say?

When asked why he wasn't going, White House spokesman Jay Carney on October 31 gave no reason, other than to say he had no updates on the President's schedule for November 19.

"I think that is an enormously significant event in our history, and I think Americans will take the appropriate time to consider it, consider the speech that was delivered there," he said. "But beyond that, I don't have any updates on the President's schedule."

It has since become known that Obama is scheduled to speak at the annual meeting of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

Ken Burns: Learn Lincoln's words by heart

The President, however, hasn't been totally silent on this year's big anniversary. He appears in a video with the four other living Presidents–as well as a number of high profile figures in politics, the media and entertainment–to recite the Gettysburg Address. The effort was put together by documentarian Ken Burns as part of his push to get Americans to record themselves remembering the speech.

The video opens–and ends–with Obama stating the famous words.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (308 Responses)
  1. Ralph

    I can't imagine why any president would refuse to attend such a "bully pulpit". The 150th anniversary of one of the greatest American speeches at one of the most significant venues in the history of this country.

    This is perhaps the most tone deaf president in the history of our country so perhaps his refusal to attend is most fitting.

    November 18, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  2. Doug L

    Lincoln took risks. He was not all that popular at the time of the address. He gave a short speech that was considered inadequate – even mocked by the pundits of that period. But he did it because he was front and center of the storm that had erupted – a storm that had seen two years of great failures on the part of his generals. Gettysburg was a turning point of sorts. Obama needs a turning point – he should be the first to stand before this site and honor the event as well as a man who stared down his opposition, faced mockery, and finally prevailed.

    November 18, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  3. Polar Bear

    Pretending he was a Lincoln-phile was just a ruse, a game, a façade, to get elected. Now that he's settled into his true socialist "dear ruler" self, he can't be bothered by events that highlight the struggle America faced to get where we are at. It's an event for all Americans, and we know that is not his focus.

    November 18, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  4. Tealiban is antiAmerican

    Unlike myself, President Obama has no ties to slavery in America. His mother was white and his father was from Kenya. There are no black American slaves in his bloodline. That being said, I do wish he would reconsider speaking at this event. Without Lincoln there is a very real possibility that I and the other 44 million black Americans in this country would still be slaves to this very day. It cost Lincoln his life and for that I am grateful, I can only speak for myself.

    November 18, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    If "We The People" do not demand Obama's resignation, as a country, it will be a decision we could all regret.

    November 18, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  6. Steve

    If you look up the history of the speech, Lincoln wasn't even the featured speaker. A Massachusetts statesman and orator Edward Everett delivered a two-hour speech, which told the entire story of the battle that raged there. Lincoln, despite legends to the contrary, did not write the speech on the train trip to Pennsylvania, but worked on it for days ahead. Although Abe's speech is long remembered and celebrated as one of the greatest speeches ever, he wanted to make sure it was about the soldiers in the graves and not about him. So in my opinion, and in this day and age when EVERYTHING Obama does is about him, it is better that he not attend.

    November 18, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  7. Deano DD

    Obama is under so much fire right now that any comments from him would seem insincere regarding such an important part of American history. I get the impression from him that this job of being the American President is way more than he bargained for.

    November 18, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  8. rs

    Polar Bear

    Pretending he was a Lincoln-phile was just a ruse, a game, a façade, to get elected. Now that he's settled into his true socialist "dear ruler" self
    It's funny how you guys on the Right keep calling the President "Dear Ruler" and "exhalted one" and so on. Odd fixation don'tcha think?

    November 18, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  9. SammFan

    He just realized that Lincoln was a Republican and his handlers told him that doesn't fit their narrative that Republicans are always "the enemy".

    November 18, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  10. whocares

    Big H
    President Obama skipped addressing the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree in 2010 and 2013. Obama is the first sitting U.S. President to do so. He sets a very poor example as POTUS.


    Not the Boy Scout Jamboree!!! Say it ain't so!!!! What a horrific disgrace.

    Seems to me that the Boy Scouts should worry about the image of their own leadership first. They should be worrying about their own image and nobody wants to be associated with them at this point.

    November 18, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  11. Joe

    all these Obama apologists. When Obama shows up at a 9/11, Pearl Harbor or Vietnam ceremony it's never about him.

    My guess is if this ceremony were held in more friendly liberal grounds he'd be there.

    In the end, who cares. Get back to work and find a way to rid us of that terrible health care program.

    November 18, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  12. rs

    Lincoln was a uniter. Obama is a divider.
    That's a side splitter- Why did the Civil War happen then?

    November 18, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  13. so what

    The POTUS has better things to do than to attend all of these ceremonies.

    November 18, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  14. yon

    It appears by the comments that Liberals do not know their history. Lincoln was the first Republican president. The freeing of slaves went down party lines with Republcans voting for and Democrates voting against, over and over again.

    November 18, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  15. Firstname Lastname

    Fire yourself Obama. No one trusts you anymore.

    November 18, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  16. Robert

    The only reason why Obama isn't a slave right now is because of all of those Union soldiers who had their lives cut short by grape shot, or musket shot or cannon ball, and he can't make some time to honor those people?

    November 18, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  17. Pianofan

    If Obama goes, republicans will skewer him; if he doesn't go, republicans will skewer him.

    November 18, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  18. Jeff

    Yet another example of how un-American this president is.

    November 18, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  19. WritingOnTheWall

    Obama being related to Jefferson Davis, makes it a little awkward.

    November 18, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  20. rs


    If "We The People" do not demand Obama's resignation, as a country, it will be a decision we could all regret.

    If "We The People" do not demand the arrest of every member of the Congressiona; TEA Party Caucus (for sedition and treason), as a country, it will be a decision we could all regret.

    November 18, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  21. Me


    I can only imagine what Abraham Lincoln would think of some of the posts here , or how divided the country is 150 years later . I'm sure he would respect president Obama for his accomplishments and his defects . He would definitely understand the difficulty in dealing with a do nothing Congress and those with out vision nor equality .

    I also believe in my heart Abraham Lincoln would approve of Affordable Healthcare for the American people , all people !
    Complete BS, the ACA is not for EVERYONE it is only for the POOR, could have just expanded medicaid and not had all of the negative effects of trying to force everyone to buy from a private industry!! The law is horrible and the majority of America agrees based on current and past polling!

    November 18, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  22. longtooth

    It's touching that the political right is concerned about Obama not showing the proper respect to Lincoln and the Battle Of Gettysburg. But one really has to wonder, how many votes would Lincoln get from those same people today? After all, they oppose the minimum wage, which technically keeps people in slavery now. Slaves had to be fed and housed, or they would die, and what good is a dead slave? They oppose government intrusion, which is exactly what Lincoln believed in. Ah, what does it matter?

    November 18, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  23. Richard Rothschild

    Sadly, 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy passed up a chance to mark the centennial of the Gettysburg Address. The Kennedy White House low-keyed many of the Civil War centennial events so as not to disturb Southern sensibilities, particularly with regard to JFK's proposed civil rights bill. Southern Democrats called the shots in both the House and Senate in the early 1960s.
    Had Kennedy chosen to visit Gettysburg, perhaps he doesn't end up in Dallas a few days later.

    November 18, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  24. rs


    It appears by the comments that Liberals do not know their history.
    You could make the same ascertain today about the GOP- who is working to take the right to vote away from Black Americans in GOP-controlled states? Which party like to parade around under the Confederate flag?

    November 18, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  25. john mccormick

    No one told him about the event and it's Bush's fault.

    November 18, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
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