The town of Brandon has worked hard to promote the birthplace of Stephen A. Douglas, the politician of Abraham Lincoln’s era who was well known in the years leading up to the Civil War.
There are Civil War memorials in many other Vermont towns, but one Vermonter of Civil War times is not likely to have a memorial in his native town of Norwich. That was Oramel Barrett, who as an editor of a newspaper in Pennsylvania described Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg as “silly,” deserving only of oblivion.
Barrett, a fierce supporter of Democrats, was described in an article written for a Civil War history magazine by his great-great-grandson. He moved from Vermont to Harrisburg, Pa., and became owner and editor of the “Daily Patriot and Union” in that community. He wrote a number of editorials sneering at Lincoln, and Republicans in general.
When a Confederate raiding party set fire to the town of Chambersburg near Harrisburg, Barrett wrote: “Abraham Lincoln is the principal cause of this calamity.”
His descendant, Douglas Stewart, called that expression “tortured logic.”
Barrett was opposed to emancipation. Among other things, he printed a detailed account of atrocities against white planters in Haiti, making it sound as if the acts had just happened — when in fact they had happened 70 years earlier.
The newspaper also emphasized Union defeats and downplayed Union victories. The tone of his diatribes is similar to what you hear from Tea Party people today. The subject matter is different, but the attitude is the same — our side is all good and the other side is all bad.
Stewart, his descendant, has read his ancestor’s newspapers online, and commented: “I enjoy the liveliness and unabashed love of politics, but I’m appalled by its reliance on slander as entertainment and its in-your-face racism.”
A century and a half ago this coming Nov. 19, Lincoln was at Gettysburg to take part in the dedication of a cemetery on the battlefield. The principal orator was Edward Everett of Massachusetts, who spoke for more than an hour.
Lincoln had been asked by the event’s organizers to give “a few appropriate remarks.” His 10-sentence address was carried by telegraph throughout the North. Barrett, for his part, claimed the whole event was orchestrated to promote the re-election efforts of Republicans. In the week after the ceremony this is what he wrote:
“We have read the little speech of President Lincoln, delivered on the occasion of dedicating the national cemetery, a plot of ground set apart for the burial of the dead who fell at Gettysburg. He acted without sense and without constraint, in a panorama which was gotten up more for his benefit and the benefit of his party than for the glory of the nation and the honor of the dead.
“To the mourners the occasion was solemn. With them, the motive was honest, earnest and honorable. But how was it with the chief actors in the pageant, from none of whose loins had sprung a solitary hero, living or dead, of this war which was begotten of their fanaticism and has been ruled by their whims?
“They stood there, upon that bloody ground, not with hearts stricken with grief or elated by ideas of true glory, but coldly calculating the political advantages which might be derived from the solemn ceremonies of the dedication.
“We pass over the silly remarks of the president. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”
It is not likely that the town of Norwich will try to seek out the birthplace of Oramel Barrett.
Kendall Wild is a retired editor of the Rutland Herald.