November 19, 2014

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – and Lord Buckley’s “hip translation” . . .


On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave a brief speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at the dedication of a cemetery for the Union soldiers who had died in that bloody Civil War battle four months earlier.

Lincoln’s remarks came to be known as “The Gettysburg Address.”

It’s his best known speech and includes two of his most famous quotes.

One is the opening sentence:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

The other the closing line, which contains the oft-cited phrase: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

As noted by many sources, Lincoln appears to have based his memorable of/by/for the people line on words used in a sermon by the abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker.

During the early months of the Civil War, Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon gave the president a book of Parker’s sermons and speeches. It included a sermon titled “The Effect of Slavery on the American People,” which Parker delivered at the Music Hall in Boston, Massachusetts on July 4, 1858.

In that, Parker said: “Democracy is direct self-government over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.”

According to Herndon, Lincoln marked that sentence in pencil in the book before he wrote the Gettysburg Address.

Parker had used similar words in earlier sermons and speeches.

For example, in a speech he gave in Boston on May 29, 1850, he defined democracy as “a government of all the people, by all the people, and for all the people.” However, the of/for/by the people formulation was not coined by Parker.

Scholars have found several of/by/for the people quotations that predate Parker’s.

In the decades since 1863, there have been countless other uses and variations inspired by the Gettysburg Address. (See this post on my Quote/Counterquote site for some examples.)

My own favorite adaptation of Lincoln’s address is the hipster version done by the late, great Richard Buckley, aka Lord Buckley.

Buckley performed as a vaudeville-style comedian from the late 1920s to the late 1940s.

Starting in 1947 and throughout the 1950s, he performed as the character “Lord Buckley,” an ultra-cool hepcat who told wild stories and recited poems using the hipster slang of black jazz musicians and beatniks.

In 1956, HIP Records released a recording of Buckley doing his “hip translation” of the Gettysburg Address. It’s included on a CD issued by Rhino in 1993 titled His Royal Hipness: Lord Buckley.

As I write this, there’s a copy you can listen to on YouTube.

Lord Buckley made it clear in his introductory remarks that, although his version is humorous, he had great respect for Lincoln and he believed Lincoln would have been able to appreciate it.

I agree. So, to honor two of my favorite orators, here in a historic side-by-side “appearance” are President Abraham Lincoln, reciting the Gettysburg Address, and Lord Buckley reciting his hip translation...



Abraham Lincoln:
The Gettysburg Address***
 


Lord Buckley:
The hip translation…
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Four big hits and seven licks ago, our before-daddies swung forth, upon this sweet groovy land a swingin’, stompin’, jumpin’, blowin’, wailin’ new nation, hip to the cool groove of liberty and solid sent with the ace lick dat all the studs, chicks, cats and kitties – red, white, or blue – is created level in front. In straight talk, the same, dig what I mean?

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.

Now we are hung with a king-size main-day civil drag, soundin’ of whether that nation or any up-there nation, so hip and so solid sent can stay with it all the way.

We are met here on a great battlefield of that war.

We’s here to dig this chop-beatin’ session on the site of the worst jazz blown in the entire issue – Gettys-mother-burg.

We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

We have stomped out here to turn on a small soil stash of the before-mentioned hassle site, as a final sweet sod pad for those who laid it down and left it there, so that this jumpin’ happy beat might blow forevermore.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. And we all dig that this is the straightest lick ever dug.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

But diggin’ it harder from afar, we cannot take no wailin’ bows, we cannot mellow, we cannot put down the stamp of the Nazz on this sweet sod, ‘cause the strong non-stop studs, both diggin’ it and dug under it, who hassled here have mellowed it with such a wild mad beat that we can hear it, but we can't touch it.
The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. Now the world cats will short dig, you hear what I say, short dig nor long stash in their wigs what we is beatin’ our chops around here, but it never can successively shade what they vanced here.

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us.

It is for us, the swingin’, to pick up the dues of these fine studs who cut out here and fly it through to Endsville. It is hipper for us to be signifyin’ to the glorious gig that we can’t miss with all these bulgin’ eyes.
That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

***NOTE: There are
five written versions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, with slight wording variations among them. The version above is from the “Hay Copy,” stored in The Library of Congress. Some scholars believe it is the version Lincoln used, but this is not known with certainty.

That from all these A-stamp studs we double our love kick, to that righteous ride for which these cats hard sounded the last 'nth bong of the bell of their bell. That we here want it stuck up straight for all to dig that these departed studs shall not have split in vain; that this nation, under the great swingin’ Nazz, shall ring up a whopper of endless Mardi Gras, and that the Big Law of you straights, by you studs, and for you kitties, shall not be scratched from the big race.”

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