Woodrow Wilson during the Great Reunion

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Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Former President Woodrow Wilson speaks to veterans and guests in the Great Tent during the Great Reunion in Gettysburg.

When Woodrow Wilson was elected president in 1912, he became known as the “Progressive President.” Much of his campaign focused on rebuilding the nation’s future during the Progressive Era, not dwelling on its complicated past. That’s why he initially declined the formal invitation to speak at the Great Reunion in Gettysburg that marked the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Under intense political pressure, however, President Wilson had a change of heart. On July 4, 1913 under the Great Tent, President Wilson spoke of the Civil War through a progressive lens, addressing the unity of former enemies and the period of “peace and union and vigor,” “healing,” and “brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten” in the 50 years since the battle. Wilson complimented the nation on its movement forward, suggesting that a nation once divided in brutality has since reunited in solidarity.

Did you know?
While solidarity was often referenced during the Great Reunion, “separate but equal” laws and civil inequality for African-Americans were still the norm. Slavery was scarcely mentioned during the 50th anniversary celebration.

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