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1863 November 19: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

November 19, 2013

Usually we publish items when they appeared in one or both of our local newspapers, but, oddly, President Abraham Lincoln’s now-famous speech was not printed in either of our local papers.

The speech was delivered by Lincoln on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Battle of Gettysburg.  The main address of the day was delivered by Edward Everett, perhaps the best-know orator of his time.  His 13,607-word speech took two hours, which was common during that time, and The Prescott Journal did publish portions of his speech about a month later.

Following Everett’s well-received remarks, Lincoln spoke for a little over two minutes.  In a letter to Lincoln written the following day, Everett praised the President for his eloquent and concise speech, saying, “Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery.  I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”¹

Despite widely-circulated stories that the president dashed off the speech while traveling by train to Gettysburg, Lincoln carefully prepared his speech in advance.  Today there are five known manuscripts in Lincoln’s handwriting and they differ in a number of details.  They also differ from contemporary newspaper reprints of the speech.

Nicolay Copy:

 The “Nicolay Copy” is the earliest of the five copies.  This copy is presumed to be the only working, or pre-delivery, draft.  It was once owned by John George Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary.  “The first page is on White House (then Executive Mansion) stationery, lending strong support to the theory that it was drafted in Washington, D.C. But the second page is on what has been loosely described as foolscap, suggesting that Lincoln was not fully satisfied with the final paragraph of the Address and rewrote that passage in Gettysburg, on November 19, while staying at the home of Judge David Wills.”²

Page 1 of the “Nicolay Copy” of the Gettysburg Address, 1863.  (Library of Congress Digital ID# al0186p1)

Page 1 of the “Nicolay Copy” of the Gettysburg Address, 1863.²

Bliss Copy

The “Bliss Copy” of the Gettysburg Address is the latest of the five manuscripts and the most often reproduced.  It is the only one signed and dated by Lincoln.  It is the text that appears on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington and is displayed in the Lincoln Room of the White House.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863.

Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, November 19, 1863. Enlargement from glass plate negative. Brady-Handy Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (Digital ID # cwpb-07639)

Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, November 19, 1863.³

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1.  Edward Everett’s November 20, 1863, letter to President Lincoln is available digitally on the Library of Congress “Gettysburg Address” online exhibition, the eighth item down (“A Gracious Compliment”). The letter is part of the Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
2.  The Nicolay Copy is also available digitally on the Library of Congress “Gettysburg Address” website, the fifth item down. (Library of Congress Digital ID# al0186p1.)
3.  This is an enlargement from glass plate negative in the Brady-Handy Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (Digital ID # cwpb-07639). It has been cropped and the red circle indicates a hatless Lincoln.

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