College of Management and Human Service

Dean Joseph McDonnell publishes new op-ed in the Portland Press Herald on how to speak to a divided country

In his February 17 Portland Press article "Off Campus:  'Gettysburg Address' a model for instilling common purpose," Dr. Jospeh McDonnell, dean of the College of Management and Human Services writes:

"Though surrounded by a Northern audience, Lincoln shunned partisan rhetoric and addressed the entire nation. The speech is noteworthy for the topics left out.

No mention of the South, secession or slavery. No information about the outcome of the battle. No reference to any particular person or place. No inkling of Lincoln’s own feelings. No indication that 51,000 men slaughtered each other there in one of the bloodiest battles in history.

Rather, Lincoln used the occasion to craft a larger message that instilled significance into the deaths of these soldiers. The speech has but one topic: the nation and its preservation. All else has been subordinated to that goal. The fathers are the founders of the nation. The war is a test of whether the nation can survive. Liberty and equality are the chief characteristics of the nation. The soldiers gave their lives for the nation. God looks over the nation. And the living must resolve to preserve a self-governing nation.

Lincoln built his speech on values the entire nation shared, North as well as South, such as their mutual admiration for the Founding Fathers, many of whom were slave-holding Southerners; the principles of liberty and equality, while carefully avoiding any definition of those terms; the heroism of those who died in battle; the appropriateness of mourning the dead; a belief in God and a familiarity with biblical language, and an acceptance of the cycle of life – conception, birth, death and rebirth.

These values stirred up strong emotions in the audience, and Lincoln employs them to persuasive effect."

Click here to read the whole article in the Portland Press Herald