Although the Constitution does not require them, duties that all great presidents fulfill include being a moral conscience for the nation and a witness to its most important moments.
Those duties took Abraham Lincoln to Gettysburg, Pa., a few months after a terrible battle there paved the way for the Union victory in the Civil War. The speech he made on Nov. 19, 1863, to dedicate a cemetery to the fallen set the war on a new moral path and prepared the nation for a new birth of freedom.
The commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address requires the same noble postscript that Mr. Lincoln provided. Yet President Obama intends to stay away.
Instead, the administration plans to send U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to share the role of keynote speaker with historian James McPherson. Nothing against these speakers, but the President’s intention is as mystifying as it is dismaying.
Mr. Obama, a fine orator, has a well-known interest in and affection for Mr. Lincoln. He took the oath of office on a Bible used by the 16th president. It is an affront to history that the Great Emancipator’s memory appears disrespected by one who is living proof of emancipation’s final triumph.
Mr. President, come to Gettysburg to honor Mr. Lincoln and your country. Speak briefly, if you wish — but speak.