You’re not necessarily a history geek if you shed a tear during Steven Spielberg’s excellent biopic “Lincoln,” which relates the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and forever outlaw slavery.
However, you are most certainly a history geek if you cry during the film’s opening 15 minutes, when President Lincoln, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, listens to three young Union soldiers recite the Gettysburg Address back to him. That happened to me, Hector Tobar, proud U.S. history geek.
Seeing those young men recite those words transported me to one of the happier moments of my own childhood: having to memorize and lead my classmates in the recitation of the Gettysburg Address at the age of 10. I was then a sixth-grader at Grant Elementary School in East Hollywood. Beyond the very republican (with a small R) ideas at the center of that short speech, its metaphors and cadences -- “a new birth of freedom” and “of the people, by the people, for the people” -- were among my earliest exposures to the idea of poetry in prose.
There are many more such wonderfully turned phrases -- calls to arms, to unity, for justice -- in “American Political Speeches,” Volume 5 in the excellent new series Civic Classics from Penguin Books, edited by Richard Beeman.