Reaction to DKG’s Gettysburg 150 Speech in 140 Characters or Less

Update: For those of you who missed it here is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s keynote address from last night.

I watched a good deal of CSPAN’s coverage of the Gettysburg 150th, including Doris Kearns Goodwin’s keynote address earlier this evening. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. Here are a few tweets. Remember, they are just tweets.



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77 comments… add one
  • John Sep 23, 2013 @ 11:22

    Technically we did not fight a civil war as the Southern States did nit want control of the government, but only to be left alone. And there was slavery in PA as many western PA farms used that peculiar institution. My family being one. As a historian I found her speech dismal, disleading and lacking in coherency. By trying to link the civil rights movement to that battle she failed to mention how Lincoln’s version of equality was deportation of all of African descent. Historicaly, it was lacking. Depth of her content was shallow as well. I might sugest that before her next speech she actually do some research.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 23, 2013 @ 11:30

      Exactly, who is “we”?

  • Lee Jul 6, 2013 @ 19:00

    I didn’t get to see Goodwin’s speech on Sunday, but I watched it on the Internet, and then again when it was rerun on TV today. It was absolutely appalling.

    I agree that it is legitimate, up to a point, to make connections between a historical event and things that occurred long after that event took place, including even present day things. But only up to a point. Beyond a certain point, doing so amounts to imposing values and attitudes of the present on people of the past. To do this is dishonest history, and a disservice to the people who participated in the event in question (in this case, the Civil War). I am opposed to that, even if the values being projected back onto them are positive (as equal rights for African-American, women, and the LGBT community are). People don’t put themselves in grave danger of being blown apart or suffering agonizing wounds for things that may or may not happen 100+ years down the road.

    If you’re going to give a speech commemorating a battle/war, you should talk both about the physical courage shown by those who fought in it, and the things that motivated them to show such courage. On the Union side, the vast majority were fighting to preserve the Union. This was certainly the main motivator for most white Union soldiers, who made up an overwhelming majority of the army. Preservation of the Union was totally ignored in Goodwin’s speech. The key issue regarding African-Americans during the war was slavery, not legal equality with whites. While African-Americans would certainly have far preferred having equal civil rights to not having them, the overriding concern for most was ending slavery. This is what motivated former slaves (a majority of black soldiers) to enlist in the Union army and navy by the tens of thousands. They were fighting so they and their families would no longer be human property. While it’s certainly legitimate to point out the link between the war and emancipation and the 14th and 15th amendments, as well as the subsequent struggle for black rights in the 1950s and 60s and the legislation passed as a result, it’s misleading to suggest this is what the war was about to those who fought it–and they are the people who matter at a commemoration.

    And then, of course, Goodwin totally went off the deep end. It’s a HUGE stretch to postulate any sort of link between women’s and LGBT rights and the Civil War. Not only that, but she sounded incredibly egocentric–why, at a commemoration of the battle of Gettysburg, should anyone care about her dancing with LBJ at the White House? And even her comment in jest about worrying that when she dies, dead presidents will criticize her for getting them “wrong”–if you accomplished what Lincoln did in his lifetime, would you really care what Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote about you? Very self-aggrandizing.

    Additionally, the speech was terribly delivered. Not only did she talk too fast and in a nonstop monotone, she looked down at her notes constantly–even for very basic things like the nature of segregation, and even for her own life story! Very strange, and very embarrassing.

    All in all, a shamefully poor performance.

  • Dudley Bokoski Jul 5, 2013 @ 13:53

    I think Goodwin was a good choice going in (but not after the fact) in that the organizers had a big event and wanted someone with name recognition beyond just people already deeply interested in the war. Which, almost by definition, means they would select other than a Civil War historian. Sure, you could get McPherson or someone else from within the community, but does Joe Average from St. Louis know who he is? Probably not, but they might know Goodwin. And if a big name was your criteria, who else would you get with a Civil War credential? Newt Gingrich? Bill O’Reilly? Now you’ve got a whole different set of offended people just from a different political viewpoint.

    Hate to say it, but from the NPS and foundation perspective, was this really a failure? You got the crowd, you got the publicity, and what is anyone going to do at the end of the day? Stop going to Gettysburg? If anything, at higher levels of the NPS they probably got credit for getting someone who is on the right side politically in reference to the current administration.

    And who is the loser in all this? From a poetic justice standpoint it is Goodwin. It is the sort of thing which loses you credibility as a speaker and makes her toxic with some audience segments. Speaking engagements can be a lucrative sideline for an author and this is where Goodwin will probably pay a price.

    Who knows, maybe she is so tone deaf not to realize why it was a bad speech. Here in the South we have a cover all occasions phrase which fits. “Lord love her, she was doing the best she could.”

  • Pat Young Jul 5, 2013 @ 5:15

    Still not sure why her statements on LGBT makes her unacceptably “political”. I would assume that everyone here acknowledges that LGBT equality grows out of the 14th Amendment, the great legal legacy of the Civil War. I’m guessing that when LBJ tried to tie Gettysburg to black voting rights, that was also seen as a politicization at the time.

    Obviously all segments of the program that night at Gettysburg had political aspects. For example, there were several appearances by the U.S. military. 40% of the men who died were fighting against the U.S. In addition, many of the Union troops who died may have opposed large standing armies. Should we have examined the primary sources to determine if the life guard and marines should have been invited?

    I also noted the appearance of black actors in the program. Many of the men who died there liked their “negro” performers to be white men in black face. They would have rioted to see a black actor on stage. Should this preference have been accommodated?

    I don’t pretend to defend DKG’s speech. But I understand why she was chosen and I think her inclusion of blacks, LGBT, and women in her Gettysburg vision was appropriate.

    • Richard Williams Jul 5, 2013 @ 9:01

      The life guards and marines didn’t deliver the key note address. Hardly a comparison.

  • Robert Moore Jul 5, 2013 @ 2:15

    “The #NPS is going to have a very difficult time claiming that it is apolitical after Doris K. Goodwin’s”

    I think I’m more focused on this aspect of Goodwin’s speech than any other thing mentioned. I was there at the time of her presentation… and left probably before five minutes into it. I was that impressed. To me, the greater moment was hearing Charles Gibson speak ,especially when he tied-in some of his own memory of visits in the past. Of the two, I think he would have been a better choice as the keynote.

    As to your tweet… that’s something that makes me think more about the dynamics of the organizational effort. In fact, this is something I got into with another person about a month ago… that whole NPS-Foundation partnership (whether it’s Gettysburg, Tredegar, or elsewhere). I’m often of the opinion that, in partnership situations, we see more influence from the foundation side than we actually realize. In fact, I wonder if it was actually the Gbg Foundation that was the stronger force behind Goodwin’s presence there. If anyone knows for certain, I’d be very interested in knowing.

    Granted, and I think you might be correct, to some degree… this may make it difficult for the NPS to appear apolitical… no matter whether it was the Foundation behind having her there or not, it’s the NPS that is reflected in this. Of course, the next question is… is the fallout really significant enough for the NPS to be concerned… or care?

  • Craig L. Jul 4, 2013 @ 19:25

    If she really wanted to connect gay rights concerns with the Civil War era she could have referenced Walt Whitman or even Horatio Alger, whose rags to riches novels drew upon his experience of New York street urchins orphaned by the Civil War.

  • Pat Young Jul 4, 2013 @ 11:34

    DKG is probably the most recognized living author who has written about the Civil War for the general public. Her book is credited as the source of a movie on the war that was seen by 20 million Americans. Her phrase “a team of rivals” is a modern meme (Hillary/Obama). She regularly appears on TV talking about contemporary affairs and is routinely asked to draw lessons from the past and apply them to what is happening today. If the NPS didn’t expect her to structure her speech as she did, then they have never watched her on NBC, CBS, etc.

    Having her keynote is as understandable as having Trace Atkins sing instead of someone presenting an “historically accurate rendition”.

    • Ken Noe Jul 4, 2013 @ 14:39

      She’s also a serial plagiarist, which is why she no longer appears on PBS. They have standards, similar to those most of us try to teach to our students. I applaud America’s willingness to grant second chances, but she was never an appropriate choice for such a significant event.

      • Richard Williams Jul 5, 2013 @ 5:30

        Ken – I agree that she was a really bad choice. She has, shall we say, “issues” that the NPS certainly knew about. That’s what really bothers me, and the fact no one is being held responsible and the NPS is silent about the whole debacle.

        I actually contacted the park several days ago (via email) and asked if they were going to respond and if anyone reviewed her remarks before she delivered them. Thus far, I’ve heard nothing.

        But I’m curious. Who would have been your pick? What about Allen C. Guelzo? I believe he did speak at the event.

        • Ken Noe Jul 5, 2013 @ 8:02

          With Egypt again in the news, I’m reminded that Jimmy Carter saved the collapsing Camp David talks by taking Sadat, Begin, and Dayan to Gettysburg for a day trip in 1978. Sadat and Dayan knew the battle down to small details, while Begin could still recite the Gettysburg Address on Cemetery Hill, having learned it as a boy. Were it my choice alone, I would have invited President Carter. But perhaps you wouldn’t have liked his speech either.

  • Pat Young Jul 4, 2013 @ 6:14

    Why didn’t they pick a keynote based on SAT scores?

  • Leonard Lanier Jul 3, 2013 @ 17:15

    Here is the real question: Why did DKG deliver the keynote address in the first place? Other, more knowledgeable historians of the period and the battle, specifically Jim McPherson, were available. The planning committee deserves some well-earned flak over that decision.

  • Al Mackey Jul 3, 2013 @ 10:04

    I didn’t stay to watch her speech that night so I just watched it. It’s evident that she’s not going to be remembered as a great orator of our time. Comments on both sides of her performance are well taken. I understand that she was trying to connect the New Birth of Freedom to the expansion of rights for (white) women, African-Americans, and even the LGBT community. Her introduction, I thought, was well done, but I think she got a bit carried away and didn’t keep her comments well connected to the battle, to its meaning, and to Lincoln. I think she could have been far more effective by using a refrain harkening back to Gettysburg’s meaning and Lincoln that she could repeat throughout the speech, which would keep her anchored to Lincoln and the battle’s meaning. She would have been far better served in doing that than in talking about dancing with LBJ or talking about her husband.

  • Casey Turben Jul 3, 2013 @ 9:16

    As a student of history (college senior) who wants to pursue a graduate degree, I have approached the point in my approach to history where the dates and facts begin to rub with theory and methods. I live just an hour from Gettysburg, and have been to the park a dozen times and even to the CWI conference twice. I am always struck by the measures taken to connect the events of July 1863 to Lincoln’s address in November. Obviously there are connections that are deeper than simply geography, but to connect the causes and effects of the battle to Lincoln’s politics is disheartening. When I go to Gettysburg, I want to hear about Heth’s surprise as the militia he expected turned out to be the rough and ready Iron Brigade, the inner turmoil between Longstreet and Lee, and the fifty different interpretations of the significance of the actions of the 20th Maine on Little Round Top. Those stories alone can sustain this national treasure. I adore Goodwin’s and her countless contributions to good solid historical memory, but she attempted to bridge a gap in her keynote that didn’t need to be made. I am happy to see I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Jul 2, 2013 @ 9:23

    Thanks Kevin. Let me know when you’re coming through – I’d be happy to show y’all around. I’ll make sure that while we are on the battlefield to discuss all the issues Kearns addressed so as to completely offend and confuse your group. 🙂 Ugh.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Jul 2, 2013 @ 9:01

    Disappointed does not begin to describe my thoughts. Aside from the fact that she was talking way too fast, and essentially reading instead of speaking, the entire approach was more appropriate to the Civil Rights Museum. It is little wonder that someone like Gary Gallagher wrote The Union War. The pendulum has swung so far from one side to the other that we are losing focus of the real war and the underlying motivations of individuals in a way that makes me as if we are slipping into a terrible abyss of rhetoric and misunderstanding. if this is how the Sesquicentennial shall go in regards to interpretation, our generation will have done little better than many of those who organized and were involved in the Centennial.

    Sorry to rant. :/

    • Kevin Levin Jul 2, 2013 @ 9:03

      Rant away, Eric. You hit the nail on the head.

      BTW, I am co-leading a group of 30-40 history teachers on a trip in August from Nashville to D.C. that will pass through Franklin. Perhaps we will finally have a chance to meet in person.

  • Dudley Bokoski Jul 1, 2013 @ 17:15

    If Lee had gotten to Greenwich Village, a mere 180 miles away, he would have been right at the gates of Hoboken. Had this happened country music might have established a bridgehead in the NYC and we never would have had the Frank Sinatra songs President Kennedy used to seduce women in the White House, which as Goodwin would point out, less successfully than Lyndon Johnson. WIthout the women Johnson might have lost interest in being President and the Great Society and all the progress subsequent to that would have been delayed by decades.

    It all made perfect sense to me.

  • Edwin Thompson Jul 1, 2013 @ 9:13

    I don’t understand your question. Claim on the legacy? Did not belong?

    • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 9:24

      You seem to agree with the content of DKG’s speech and the occasion on which she shared it with an audience. We can assume that not everyone in the audience (perhaps close to half if we consider recent polls) did not agree with her connecting Gettysburg with the cause of gay right/gay marriage. Shouldn’t a speaker in such a setting work to bring people together at a time like this? I can imagine some people feeling very alienated at last night’s ceremony. Just a thought.

      • Edwin Thompson Jul 1, 2013 @ 9:55


        I’m still not sure of your question – but you seem to be focused on the gay rights issue. She spoke about more than just gay rights. Dick Cheney should be happy about that with a gay daughter.

        Back on subject – Ms. Goodwin told us why these men did not die in vain. The demise of slavery and Jim Crow. The additions of woman’s suffrage and gay rights. Human rights is what American is about.

        I hope this answers your question.

        • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 10:13

          Ms. Goodwin told us why these men did not die in vain.

          She did much more than that.

          • Edwin Thompson Jul 1, 2013 @ 10:34

            hummm – What else did she say?

            • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 10:36

              Thanks again for your comments. I’m not sure what else to say.

              • Edwin Thompson Jul 1, 2013 @ 10:45

                Nor I

  • Chris Jul 1, 2013 @ 9:05

    Hi Kevin,

    This is an interesting topic and I agree with you that “the trick is to work toward a balance between honoring the cause for which they fought and the continued meaning that we pull from the past to situate ourselves in time.” It is a challenge and demands some thought.

    But maybe it has become too easy to make the connections between the Civil War and Civil Rights and like you say, also unfair to the war’s participants. I have received the question in my history courses, if the Civil War freed the slaves, why did we need the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s? As you acknowledge, the two events deserve a connection to be made but that “trick” comes into play again. Even the Smithsonian has the exhibit, “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963” which is connecting the two eras for their visitors. MLK has a quote in the exhibit: “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check,” meaning of course, the promises of the Civil War amendments.

    So, as I think this through, is the trick showing most of the northern Civil War soldiers at Gettysburg, 150 years ago today, fought for Union and slavery’s destruction was more of a political accomplishment and should be separated from most of those soldiers who fought? And Civil Rights leaders took this political accomplishment to end the injustices incurred during Jim Crow and Segregation?

    One note, it was great to see the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park’s museum posts quotes from various Confederate and Yankee soldiers showing the complexity of “why they fought.”

    Regards, and as always, an excellent and thought provoking discussion.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 9:17

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree, which is why in an earlier comment I suggested that we run the risk of merely treating the Civil War generation as a means to an end. I would much prefer if speakers use such occasions to leave the audience with questions to consider re: the war’s continued meaning. DKG seemed to assume that all Americans identify with the Gettysburg and the Civil War in the same way. Certainly many Americans have come to embrace the “unfinished business” of race in the last 150 years, but I have a problem when we unload all of our current debates on the past.

  • Edwin Thompson Jul 1, 2013 @ 8:46

    Humm – I’m surprised by comments.

    Doris Kearns Goodwin speech ‘New Birth of Freedom” will be remembered for a long time. These men a Gettysburg did not die in vain, and she drove the point home by walking us through our history since 1865. Who knows what modern America and the world would look like if the Confederate Slave States were successful in this war. There probably would have been another war following this one, and if there was to be a new birth of freedom, it would take more time.

    Her point was Lincoln’s vision and the American men that fought over “all men are created equal”. Lincoln’s words from his house divided speech, the Cooper Union Address (possible his best – “let us to the end, dare to our duty as we understand it”), the Gettysburg address, and in his second inauguration address set the moral character of this nation. He set the stage to create a democracy that could protect the weak from the strong. He set the stage for women’s suffrage, ending Jim Crow (MLK – we are cashing your check), and now gay rights.

    My only knock on Ms Goodwin’s speech is that I have no idea what the next person say in 50 years. At the end of her speech, my daughter said to me, “they should have given her an hour – she obviously had a lot more to say about these men who did not die in vain”.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 8:51

      He set the stage for women’s suffrage, ending Jim Crow (MLK – we are cashing your check), and now gay rights.

      So I will ask you the same question. Do you believe that those in attendance last night who disagree with the Supreme Court’s recent decisions re: gay marriage have no claim on the legacy of Gettysburg or did not belong at the ceremony last night?

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Jul 1, 2013 @ 7:13

    I haven’t heard the speech but from what I’ve read here, I think we need to do a lot better than “The people in history that I like really did support all of the causes and beliefs that I stand for today.” Honestly, I think affixing modern issues (LGBT rights; reproductuive rights, immigration reform, gun control, universal healthcare, religious expression, etc.) on people of the Civil War Era is not much better than some people who want to believe the Confederacy was some sort of libertarian, small government civil rights movement for Black people (i.e, happy, well-treated slaves and thousands of Black Confederates).

    To me, “A new birth of freedom” is about just that: BIRTH. It was a starting place. In 1863, the country was born again. And just like a mature, responsible adult should own up to their reckless, irresponible, immature behavior as a teenager, our society today, much more aware and tolerant of race, gender, culture, preference and class, has to own its past of intolerance and bigotry, rather than act like we knew we’d be then what we are today. We are, and always will be, a work in progress. That, to me, is what history is all about. We haven’t always been here… but how did we get here?

    • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 7:33

      At some point we are treating historical actors as a means to an end. The trick is to work toward a balance between honoring the cause for which they fought and the continued meaning that we pull from the past to situate ourselves in time.

      • Bryan Cheeseboro Jul 1, 2013 @ 8:43

        “The trick is to work toward a balance between honoring the cause for which they fought and the continued meaning that we pull from the past to situate ourselves in time.”

        And having said that, do you think any “honoring the cause” can genuinely tke place for the Confederacy? I know it can’t for slavery and White supremacy. But what about all of the determination, devotion and sacrifice of the soldier and the civilian? Do you find any “continued meaning” for those people?

        • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 8:49

          That’s a good question and I will not pretend to have a perfect answer. I don’t think that a proper commemoration should honor the Confederacy for exactly the reasons you mentioned. One hundred and fifty years later and apart from a few whackos on the extreme we remember the war as Americans and not as Confederates. I thought the ceremony last night did a pretty good job of acknowledging Confederate soldiers in the battle, but they were overshadowed by Lincoln’s words and the Union/Emancipation Cause as it should be.

          • Bryan Cheeseboro Jul 1, 2013 @ 9:16

            “That’s a good question and I will not pretend to have a perfect answer.”

            That’s fine For what it’s worth, more and more I’m coming to an understanding that talking to people about history as it happened is not about “having the perfect answer.”

  • J. Sherman Grant Jul 1, 2013 @ 6:25

    Incredibly disappointed. Very nice speech. Well-written. Nicely presented. But not appropriate for the time/place. Her insight on Lincoln was needed here. Perhaps her thoughts on how we should remember the soldiers or how we should remember the Civil War. I watched on TV and was pained to hear her talk about LBJ and her husband and Jack Valenti. C’mon!!! It’s the 150th Anniversary…doesn’t occur that often…. not your own personal history. I expected more from her.

  • Jimmy Dick Jul 1, 2013 @ 6:05

    I loved what she said, but it wasn’t appropriate for the venue. I noticed the twitter feed for the event had a few less than happy conservative commenters. Based on the facial expressions of the audience members most of what she said went right over their heads. It was practically an example of an academic addressing an audience that was not an academic audience, but rather a general audience.

    I was happy with Peter Carmichael’s remarks afterword. I was especially happy that he brought up the lack of funding by the US Congress for historical anything. I don’t think we can stress this enough. The lack of funding is going to hurt efforts to teach history to Americans.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 6:06

      I don’t necessarily blame conservatives for being unhappy with DKG’s speech.

      • Richard Williams Jul 1, 2013 @ 11:17

        Breitbart no doubt echoes what many thought of her speech:

        “On Sunday, a stunned audience sat in silence as Doris Kearns Goodwin turned the keynote address at the opening ceremony for the 150th anniverary of the Battle of Gettysburg into a political lecture focusing on women’s and gay rights.

        Missing from much of her keynote: Gettysburg.

        Self-centered, insular, and oblivious to the occasion, the historian who was infamously caught plagiarizing merely recycled much of what she has said before about herself in previous speeches. And her rambling, self-promoting, and borderline inappropriate lecture touched upon nearly everything except for the heroic sacrifices made on that battlefield.

        In so doing, she desecrated the hallowed land on which she spoke, dishonored Gettysburg’s honored dead, and disrespected the nearly 8,000 Americans in attendance who did not come to Gettysburg to hear about her life’s story and a progressive history lecture.”


    • Pat Young Jul 1, 2013 @ 6:21

      Carmichael remarks were good, but they were said in response to a question about the black visitation to Gettysburg and he framed them in terms of increasing African American participation. It would be good to expand the scope beyond the black/white diad and ask what can be done to make the story relevant to everyone from Asian immigrants to gays and lesbians. (Which I sort of think was gotten at by DKG more than anyone else last night.) We either all own our history or it isn’t our history at all.)

      • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 6:30


        I don’t understand why gays and lesbians should feel alienated from the Gettysburg story.

  • Richard Williams Jul 1, 2013 @ 5:20

    Uh, that should be “no” difference. Sorry.

  • Richard Williams Jul 1, 2013 @ 5:20

    Kevin – I agree with your assessment here, but how is what Goodwin said any different than what Professor David Blight has already said? I see know difference.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 5:48

      You seem to be obsessed with David Blight. I don’t agree with everything Blight says so I don’t feel a need to go there.

      • Richard Williams Jul 1, 2013 @ 6:15

        Me obsessed? You and a lot of academic historians look to him as the godfather of modern CW history. What would you call that? That’s fine – but he’s no different than Goodwin when it comes to this topic.

        • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 6:19

          “You and a lot of academic historians look to him as the godfather of modern CW history.”

          I have no doubt that you believe this. Thanks for the laugh.

          • Richard Williams Jul 1, 2013 @ 6:27

            Yes, I do believe it. Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Laugh or not, if you listen to Goodwin’s speech and read Blight’s piece, they’re pretty much cut from the same cloth. That fact speaks volumes.

            • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 6:33

              Like I said, I don’t agree with everything that Blight says. You can find disagreements on my blog as well as in my book. This post is about DKG. Why isn’t the fact that we actually agree on something sufficient?

              • Richard Williams Jul 1, 2013 @ 7:23

                Well, since they’re so close in their interpretation of the Civil War, and since Blight gets a lot of mention here, I thought it was germane. But I’ll leave it alone here. We do agree that Goodwin’s speech was terrible – she certainly fits Eugene Genovese’s characterization of a historian who is a “canting ideologue.”

    • Michael Lynch Jul 1, 2013 @ 8:08

      To me, the difference has to do with the venue rather than the content. I take issue with Blight’s use of the Civil War as expressed in his editorial, but everybody has the right to express divisive opinions about modern politics in a forum like that, even if one chooses to do so in one’s capacity as a historian. But when a historian is invited to give a keynote address at an NPS 150th event, it just seems inappropriate to leverage that into an occasion to editorialize. Goodwin has every right to say what she did, but it was bad form to do so at that particular place and time.

      If the situations were reversed, and Blight had read his piece at the Gettysburg 150th while Goodwin had printed her speech as an op-ed in the NY Times, then I’d be as dissatisfied with Blight right now as I am with Goodwin.

      • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 8:19

        If the situations were reversed, and Blight had read his piece at the Gettysburg 150th while Goodwin had printed her speech as an op-ed in the NY Times, then I’d be as dissatisfied with Blight right now as I am with Goodwin.

        For what it’s worth, I agree completely.

      • Richard Williams Jul 1, 2013 @ 9:33

        Michael – I think your attempt at differentiating Blight’s piece is quite a stretch – and fails. Blight was writing in a series which (read it for yourself) claims to be:

        “Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War & the Missouri-Kansas border region’s unique place in the bloody four-year conflict.”

        That’s not an editorial format, as you attempt to argue. According to the paper (Kansas City Star) Blight’s piece appeared in, his piece was part of their “commemoration” efforts. Thus, your argument fails. As a matter of fact, several of the papers’ readers pointed out that Blight’s piece was “political commentary” and SHOULD have been in the op-ed section:

        “. . . I would expect a scholar of history to be a little more informed about how many more tentacles the federal government has in everyone’s lives today than during the Civil War. He’s letting his personal politics make him oblivious to an obvious fact, and I don’t care if you want to dismiss that as a tea party thing or not. … The political commentary was unneeded in an otherwise excellent package of information, and I think it showed . . .”

        Another reader added:

        “Why did The Star feel that his view was so important that if be featured in the front section and not in the editorials where it belonged? I think in the interest of fairness, it was improperly placed.” (See:

        Yes, it was indeed improperly placed, just as Goodwin’s speech was. I don’t understand what’s so difficult about admitting it.

        • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 9:36

          There is no difficulty about admitting anything, Richard. This post is about DKG and not about David Blight. Sounds like you should be writing to the Kansas City Star.

          • Richard Williams Jul 1, 2013 @ 9:51

            Thanks for the endorsement Kevin, though I doubt they’d have me. 😉 But I was responding to Michael’s argument (with which you agreed), that Blight’s piece was in an op-ed or editorial type venue. It clearly was not. It was in a “commemoration” venue as was Goodwin’s speech. One was written, the other oral. Granted, Goodwin’s debacle is magnified by the location, event, and audience size – but beyond that, they’re both as bad – and for the same reasons.

        • Michael Lynch Jul 1, 2013 @ 11:49

          Okay, then. If Blight’s piece appeared in a section of the paper that was meant to offer straight historical writing or conventional commemorative articles, then I’d say his article belonged in an op-ed section. But I’d still come down harder on Goodwin. The official NPS program for Gettysburg’s 150th is a big deal, and she had a captive audience. I’d be mildly irritated to run across Blight’s editorial in a commemorative section of the paper, but I’d be downright mad if I drove to Gettysburg and sat down to enjoy a ceremony conducted under NPS auspices only to be subjected to a political speech.

          I don’t know what the KC Star’s intentions were in asking Blight to write the article (I’m assuming they approached him to do so), or what they envisioned their commemorative section to be, but somebody at the paper read the thing and ran it. Did it belong there? I doubt it. But I’m pretty sure the NPS didn’t have a political speech in mind when they asked a prominent historian to give their keynote address.

          • Richard Williams Jul 1, 2013 @ 15:02

            ” If Blight’s piece appeared in a section of the paper that was meant to offer straight historical writing or conventional commemorative articles, then I’d say his article belonged in an op-ed section.”

            Uh, I believe that’s what it says in black and white:

            ““Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War & the Missouri-Kansas border region’s unique place in the bloody four-year conflict.”

            What does “commemorating” mean to you?

            • Michael Lynch Jul 2, 2013 @ 16:00

              I think Blight’s piece could be considered a type of commemoration; “commemoration” is just bringing something to remembrance. When I referred to “conventional commemorative articles,” I was thinking of the rather innocuous pieces that appear in newspapers and special inserts around anniversary time. Straightforward battle narratives, historical information, coverage of anniversary activities, and so on.

              The KC Star apparently wanted to open things up to include something a little spicier; it’s not my preference, but I’m not all that upset about it. But when a historian delivering a keynote address at an official NPS 150th anniversary event indulges in editorializing, I get more upset, due to the nature of the forum and the event.

              I’m just more comfortable with editorializing in a newspaper column, even one printed in observance of a battle anniversary, than I am at the 150th observance of a battle conducted under NPS auspices. If you think the article and the speech were equally inappropriate, that’s fine. You and I both take issue with Blight’s column, but you take issue with it more vehemently than I do. It often happens that one person will disagree with something, and someone else will disagree with it more.

              • Richard Williams Jul 2, 2013 @ 16:58

                Understood Michael, though several readers of the paper made the same observation as I did. And I agree, Goodwin’s debacle was on a grander scale due to the location and event. I see that Kent Masterson Brown was there and gave an excellent talk on George Meade. You can watch it here:


                I wonder what the reaction would have been had he used the platform to advance his political views?

  • Christine M. Smith Jul 1, 2013 @ 5:15

    As we watched her speech, I said to my husband (concerning her comments about the LGBT community, etc.), “Those will get her criticized for sure”, and I was correct. I too found it a strange juxtaposition of elements of our historical past and the present for a speech at a commemoration of an event where so many brave men fought, were wounded, and died. Her emphasis should have been on them and their sacrifice and what that can mean “for us the living” today. So, while I fully support the LGBT community in their quest for equality, and abhor the decision to effectively gut the 1965 Voting Rights act, I don’t think either was appropriate material for her speech last night.

  • Sam Elliott Jul 1, 2013 @ 4:28

    “The implication of her speech is that someone who disagrees with certain recent Supreme Court rulings is not properly acknowledging the sacrifice of the men who fought at Gettysburg.”

    You’re absolutely right, Kevin. I was not inclined to listen to her for various reasons, but flipped over just in time to hear her comments on the recent rulings. You won’t say it, but I will: it was awful, it was inappropriate to the occasion, and unnecessarily imposed her modern political views on her listeners.

  • Clay Knick Jul 1, 2013 @ 3:42

    I’m with Kevin. It was awful.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 3:43

      OK, but why was it awful?

  • Pat Young Jul 1, 2013 @ 1:25

    I suppose it depends on how closely related you think the 14th Amendment and the Battle of Gettysburg are connected.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 1:56

      Or how the 14th Amendment has been interpreted through the years. I think it is unfortunate that we are saddling the Civil War generation with our current culture wars. I am certainly not suggesting that we not make connections, but Goodwin’s speech went too far. The implication of her speech is that someone who disagrees with certain recent Supreme Court rulings is not properly acknowledging the sacrifice of the men who fought at Gettysburg. That is absurd.

      • Pat Young Jul 1, 2013 @ 2:48

        If the Supreme Court had not interpreted the 14th Amendment and the post-Civil War civil rights acts as it did beginning in the 1950s it would be cruel to hold commemorations of Gettysburg today. A phrase like “a new birth of freedom” would seem like a sneeringly hollow boast if we still lived in the white supremacist, homophobic, male dominated world like that of 1950. The fact is that the Supreme Court established by the Framers interpreted the legal and Constitutional legacy of the Civil War as pointing towards freedom and equality from 1954 through today.

        Had the Court of the late 19th Century followed the plain meaning of the 14th Amendment there would not be such a seeming disconnect.

        • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 2:52

          “A phrase like “a new birth of freedom” would seem like a sneeringly hollow boast if we still lived in the white supremacist, homophobic, male dominated world like that of 1950.”

          Only if we have lost sight completely of the importance that Americans of the Civil War generation attached to the preservation of the Union. I suspect that this is how most interpreted the idea of a “New Birth of Freedom.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily disagreeing with you politically. My problem with Goodwin is that she likely succeeded in alienating a good number of people by trying to turn the Gettysburg 150th into a grab bag of every cultural battle that is currently being waged.

          Where were the men who fought the battle in her address?

          • Pat Young Jul 1, 2013 @ 3:14

            Kevin, I’ve been to commemorations of the 1775 events in Boston in which the separation from Britain, the creation of the United States and the Constitution were all referenced, with no acknowledgement that many of those who fought at Lexington and Concord may have been fighting in defense of provincial rights within the British empire.

            Keynotes tend to tie ancient events to the modern world. Perhaps Gary Gallagher is right that this was primarily about a “War for the Union.” However, outside of the nutty fringe, Union has not been a seriously contested issue for 148 years (except in the comments sections of certain blogs). Contemporary contested ground is, and has been for 60 years, the freedom of the very classes (women, LGBT, racial minorities) that DKG spoke about.

            DKG could have given the speech the crowd expected. She could have spoken of the courage of both sides and told a few funny, slightly off color, stories about Lincoln. The demographics of the crowd did not look much different from the one that heard those speeches in 1963 She didn’t.

            As a lawyer and civil rights activist, I don’t think of the monuments to the Civil War generation as the rocks marked with words that litter the battle grounds or the old regimental flags entombed in state archives. I see the living monuments as the laws, ignored for 90 ears years, passed by the far-sighted victors that continue to bring freedom today.

            Whenever freedom is recognized under the 14th Amendment, the soul of the Civil War is marching on.

            • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 3:22

              “However, outside of the nutty fringe, Union has not been a seriously contested issue for 148 years.”

              But it was contested in the 1860s and we would do well to remember that.

              I am certainly not suggesting that we cannot draw meaning from the past that the historical actors themselves would fail to identify, but last night went a little too far for me. The connections with civil rights is legitimate, but at what point are we simply using the past to buttress our own personal political/ethical convictions rather than trying to frame it for the benefit of the nation as a whole or just the community that attended last night’s ceremony? Again, are you suggesting that someone who does not agree with the recent Supreme Court decision re: same sex marriage does not have a right to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg. Whether she explicitly meant to do so or not, I read DKG as suggesting they do not. That is unfortunate.

  • Phil LeDuc Jun 30, 2013 @ 20:02

    Thanks Kevin. I thought maybe it was just me. I was so disappointed in her remarks, which seemed to be a paean to LBJ mixed with a bit of “isn’t it so wonderful that I worked for LBJ” and “I met my future husband while working for LBJ” and “LBJ wanted my future husband and no one else to write his great speech” and… well, you heard it too. Just a complete waste as a keynote speaker…

  • Jobu Jun 30, 2013 @ 18:37

    The topic for her speech was subtitled “A New Birth of Freedom.” I heard her riffing on the mystic chords of memory — the principles that govern our nation — that stretched from the Declaration of Independence, to Gettysburg, through Lincoln, into Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights movement. She was making the larger connection. After all, it would have been absurd if she spoke on Union regimental deployments in the Wheatfield.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2013 @ 1:53

      No one is suggesting that she survey regiments or provide a detailed tactical overview of the battle. What I am suggesting is that Goodwin missed an opportunity to honor the men who fought the battle. Confederate and Union soldiers did not fight for LGBT rights. We are remembering a war that never existed.

      • TF Smith Jul 6, 2013 @ 13:49

        Perhaps it is because of who I am (a Westerner, rather than an Easterner) and where and when I grew up (US in the 1960s and 1970s), but I think her speech was fine.

        Keynotes, after all, are supposed to be both provocative and present a point of view; this is not a paper being delivered, much less an invocation or a dedication. Someone else handled that in 1863, after all…and that same dedication was, in fact, included – quite effectively – in the program.

        Speakking of which, of the entire program, she had perhaps a half hour, and hers was the only element that was really focused on bringing the impact of the battle on the history of the United States over the past century and a half; the last 20 minutes – the slides and speakers/actors section – certainly laid out the battle, and the introductory speakers – including Gibson and Director Jarvis – both spoke quite elequently on the cause and comrades issues suggested elsewhere. Gibson’s quote a rebel speaking about how attractive Pennsylvania would be with slavery was an eye-opener; anyone know the source?

        The simple fact that the color guard from the 3rd Infantry included a soldier who appeared (to my eyes) to be AA was elegant testimony as too what came from the battle – and the war.

        I really think you are far too harsh on Goodwin.


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