This article originally appeared in the pages of the Gettysburg Times, January of 2023. It was penned by Wendy Allen of the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania, in the hopes of sharing the work the Fellowship does.
One has to wonder what might be different today if President Kennedy had accepted the invitation to speak at the Centennial Commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on November 19th, 1963.
That same year, President Kennedy had visited Gettysburg in March to tour the battlefield and was again invited to be in Gettysburg on July 4th for the Centennial Commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg but declined. According to the official record of the Centennial Commission, “informal soundings” coming from the White House indicated that President Kennedy would come to Gettysburg in November to use the occasion for a major address to the nation. Accordingly, Governor Scranton extended an official invitation to the President to rededicate the Cemetery. The President and his advisors declined the invitation and went instead on his fateful trip to Texas.
The next most prominent figure from American politics happened to live in Gettysburg already: JFK’s predecessor in the White House, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, had purchased a farm on the outskirts of the battlefield in 1950 and, following his presidency, they had moved to the farm permanently. He even surrendered the honorific title “Mr. President” in favor of “General” when upon his request, Congress restored his military rank after completion of his second presidential term. “The General” gladly accepted the invitation to offer the keynote at the commemoration ceremony. Mamie Eisenhower was there, too, “dressed in brilliant red and displaying her famous smile.”
In 1963, the Lincoln Fellowship observed its 25th anniversary. Those involved with the Fellowship that year knew this was a significant milestone. The President of the Fellowship, Chester S. Shriver wrote, “The accomplishment of the purposes of the Lincoln Fellowship have been rewarding to those who have embraced the ideals of Abraham Lincoln and who annually commemorate November 19 as Dedication Day.”
Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania is a 501(c)3 OrganizationP. O. Box 3372, Gettysburg, PA 17325Email: email@example.com