Lincoln in Gettysburg

You may be surprised to learn that President Abraham Lincoln did not give the Gettysburg Address at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania back on November 19, 1863. That honor went to a man named Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours before Lincoln rose to deliver his two minute dedication speech for the Cemetery. No one remembers what Everett said that day, but Lincoln’s words have become famous. You may also be surprised to learn that there now exist five different versions of Lincoln’s speech; all in Lincoln’s handwriting. Let’s find out what actually took place on that memorable day in 1863 and discover why we have several different wordings of what is called the Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

President Lincoln was invited to dedicate our country’s first National Cemetery by David Wills, a wealthy 32-year old Gettysburg lawyer. Eager to participate, Lincoln arrived by train the night before the ceremonies and stayed with the Wills. The next morning Lincoln retired to his room after breakfast to complete his dedication speech. Then at about 10 A.M. he left Wills’s house dressed in black, wearing white gauntlets and the usual crepe around his hat in memory of Willie, his dead son. He then joined the procession of military and civic dignitaries going to the new cemetery about a mile south of the town and located adjacent to the old town cemetery where a pre-war sign ironically declared: "All persons found using firearms on these grounds will be prosecuted with the utmost rigor of the law." We are told that the President mounted "a magnificent chestnut charger", and that the procession arrived at the speaker's platform inside cemetery at 11:15 A.M. There Lincoln received a military salute and then joined members of his cabinet on the platform. Before sitting down Lincoln went over and shook hands with Gov. David Tod of Ohio. Lincoln returned to his place between chairs reserved for Sec. Seward and Edward Everett, the principle speaker at the dedication ceremony. Everett, who had served as Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, Governor of Massachusetts and president of Harvard University, was widely considered to be the nation's greatest orator.

A newspaper reporter wrote, “That only once during Everett's oration did Lincoln stir in his chair. He took out his steel-bowed spectacles, put them on his nose, took two pages of manuscript from his pocket, looked them over and put them back.” Then at 2 P.M. Lincoln stands, is introduced to a crowd of 15,000, and "in a fine, free way, with more grace than is his wont, he holds his manuscript but does not appear to read from it.” His speech began, “Four score and seven years ago…..” According to a New York Times article, his delivery was interrupted five times by applause and greeted with "a long continued applause" at its conclusion.

Afterwards Lincoln remarked to his bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon that his speech was like a bad plow that won't scour. “Lamon,” he said, “It is a flat failure and the people are disappointed.” John R. Young, recording the speech in shorthand for the Philadelphia Press, leaned across aisle and asked the President if that was all. Lincoln replies, "Yes, for the present."

After the cemetery dedication, Lincoln returned to the Wills House for a late lunch, followed by a public reception. There he met John L. Burns, the feisty 70-year-old Gettysburg cobbler who picked up a rifle and joined Union troops on July 1, receiving wounds in three places. Lincoln then hurried off to the train station and his duties in Washington.

Only known photo of Lincoln (hatless)
with his bodyguard, Ward Lamon on
his right taken just before the two hour
speech by Edward Everett.

What was regarded to be the Gettysburg Address was not the short speech delivered by Lincoln, but rather the 13,600 word oration by Edward Everett. His speech began as follows:
Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature. But the duty to which you have called me must be performed; — grant me, I pray you, your indulgence and your sympathy.”The speech ended with: “But they, I am sure, will join us in saying, as we bid farewell to the dust of these martyr-heroes, that wheresoever throughout the civilized world the accounts of this great warfare are read, and down to the latest period of recorded time, in the glorious annals of our common country, there will be no brighter page than that which relates the Battles of Gettysburg.”

There are five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address. President Lincoln gave one copy to each of his two private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, and these are in the Library of Congress. The other three copies of the Address were written by Lincoln for charitable purposes well after November 19. The copy Lincoln gave to Edward Everett is at the Illinois State Historical Library at Springfield; the Bancroft copy, requested by historian George Bancroft, is at Cornell University; the Bliss copy was made for Colonel Alexander Bliss, Bancroft's stepson, and is now in the Lincoln Room of the White House.

Nicolay Copy is often called the "first draft" because it is believed to be the earliest copy that exists. The first part of this copy is written in ink on Executive Mansion stationery, and the second page in pencil on lined paper. Matching folds are still evident on the two pages, suggesting it could be the copy that eyewitnesses say Lincoln took from his coat pocket and read at the ceremony. However, the wording does not match newspaper accounts of Lincoln's original speech. The words "under God," for example, are missing from the phrase "that this nation [under God] shall have a new birth of freedom...." In order for the Nicolay draft to have been the reading copy, Lincoln uncharacteristically would have had to depart from his written text in several instances.

The Hay Copy is sometimes referred to as the "second draft," and was made either on the morning of its delivery, or shortly after Lincoln's return to Washington. Those that believe that it was completed on the morning of his address point to the fact that it contains certain phrases that are not in the first draft but are in the reports of the address as delivered and in subsequent copies made by Lincoln.

The Everett Copy was penned by President Lincoln and sent to Edward Everett who had requested a copy of the Lincoln’s speech and praised its “eloquent simplicity and appropriateness of the occasion.” The Bancroft Copy was written out by President Lincoln in April 1864 at the request of George Bancroft, the most famous historian of his day. The Bliss Copy was made for Colonel Alexander Bliss, Bancroft’s stepson, and is the only draft to which Lincoln affixed his signature and is the most facsimile reproduction of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address containing 272 words and 10 sentences.