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"The Gettysbiirg Address is a 
marvelous piece of English com- 
position. The more closely the 
Address is analyzed, the more 
one must confess astonishment at 
its choice of words, the precision 
of its thought, its simplicity, 
directness, and effectiveness. 

"I escape the task of deciding 
which is the masterpiece of mod- 
ern English eloquence by award- 
ing the prize to an American." 

— Lord Ci^rzpn, Earl of Kedleston, Chancellor 
of the University of Oxford 

Copyright, ig)S 

The Lincoln National 

Life Insurance 


Little Known Facts About The 
Gettysburg Address 

By Louis A. Warren, Lift. D. 

Historian, The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company 
Director, The Lincoln National Life Foundation 

THE ADDRESS delivered by Abraham Lincoln at the dedicatory 
exercises of the Gettysburg National Cemetery has been ac- 
claimed the outstanding oration in the Anglo-Saxon tongue. Natur- 
ally, any incident which relates to the preparation or the delivery 
of this masterpiece of eloquence is extremely important. Some of the 
little known facts about Lincoln's Gettysburg Address are herewith 

Gettysburg — Battle and Address 

THE Battle of Gettysburg came to a close on the eve of Inde- 
pendence Day, 1863. The famous Gettysburg Address of 
Abraham Lincoln, however, was not made at the time of this 
important contest, and the remarks were not inspired by the 
militia in action. It was those brave men who had given "the last 
full measure of devotion," which drew from Lincoln the mem- 
orable words spoken on November 19, 1863, at the consecration 
of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. 

It was more than four months after the actual conflict that a 
part of the very field where men had fought was consecrated as a 
place where men were buried. The din and clamor of battle had 


given place to calm and quiet, and in an atmosphere charged with 
reverence and thoughts of the dead, the requiem pronounced by 
Abraham Lincoln was heard. 

The Occasion 

THE unprecedented number of casualities resulting from the 
decisive battle called for an orderly and decent burial of the 
dead. David Wills, a citizen of the town of Gettysburg, Pennsyl- 
vania, was apparently the first individual to present a satisfactory 
plan for the general interment of the fallen soldiers, and he was 
ably supported in his views by the Governor of the state. 

Way up in New England, a kinsman of the President, Mayor 
F. W. Lincoln of Boston, was active in attempting to perfect some 
organization which would acquire ground on the battlefield where 
the Union soldiers from Massachusetts might be interred and 
memorialized. Finally a corporation known as The National 
Soldiers Cemetery was created, financed by the various states 
having citizens eligible for burial there. It was this cemetery that 
President Lincoln was invited to consecrate with dedicatory 

The Chief Executive Invited to Speak 

THE Gettysburg program was arranged by the National Sol- 
diers Cemetery Committee, and they selected Edward Everett 
as the orator for the occasion. The first date set for the exercises 
was Thursday, October zt,, 1863, but Mr. Everett felt he could not 
be ready to speak so soon as that and then suggested that No- 
vember 19 would be the earliest possible date on which he could 
appear. This date was approved. 

Officially, Lincoln had no voice in the plans for the celebration 
as it was not under the jurisdiction of the United States Govern- 
ment. Out of courtesy to him, however, in ample time to prepare 
the few remarks he was expected to make, he was invited by the 


committee in charge to participate in the ceremonies. This request 
he graciously accepted, apparently without any feeling that his 
invitation to be present was unduly belated, as is often alleged. 

Writing the Immortal Words 

IT WAS on November x, seventeen days before the address, that 
the invitation to participate in the Gettysburg program 
reached Lincoln, and knowing his deep interest in the project, one 
would suggest that he immediately gave some thought to what 
he might say at the dedication. John Nicolay, one of his secre- 
taries, observes that Lincoln "probably followed his usual habit 
in such matters, using great deliberation in arranging his 
thoughts, and moulding his phrases mentally, waiting to reduce 
them to writing until they had taken satisfactory form." 

There is much difference of opinion as to when he found it 
convenient to write out his address, but all authorities in a posi- 
tion to know his movements in Washington are agreed that the 
first draft was written before he left the Capitol for Gettysburg. 
There is no dependable evidence, whatsoever, that indicates he 
wrote any part of the address on the way to Gettysburg. 

That some corrections in his manuscript were made after ar- 
riving at Gettysburg, and that the last part of it especially, was 
rewritten is an assured fact. The writing was done in the home 
of Mr. Wills where Lincoln was a guest. What is known as the 
battlefield revision copy is transcribed on two pieces of paper, the 
first part written in ink and the concluding part written in pencil. 

The First Gettysburg Speech 

LINCOLN made two addresses at Gettysburg; one is forgotten, 
the other will always be remembered. The evening on which 
the President arrived at Gettysburg, he was serenaded at the home 


of Mr. Wills, his host. In response to urgent demands from the 
crowd, Lincoln appeared at the door of the home and made his 
first Gettysburg speech. He said: 

"I appear before you, my fellow citizens, merely to thank you 
for this compliment. The inference is a very fair one that you 
would hear me for a little while at least, were I to commence to 
make a speech . I do not appear before you for the purpose of doing 
so, and for several substantial reasons. The most substantial of 
these is that I have no speech to make. In my position it is some- 
what important that I should not say any foolish things. It very 
often happens that the only way to help it is to say nothing at all. 
Believing that is my present position this evening, I must beg of 
you to excuse me from addressing you further. 

An Unlovely Setting 

GETTYSBURG was an unlovely place on November 19, 1863. 
The trees, shorn of their limbs, gave evidence of the fearful 
struggle which had occurred there. The symmetry of the burial 
acres, with its semi-circular arrangement of lots, was entirely lost 
in the uneven newly made mounds with their crude markers. In- 
terments were still being made as hastily prepared graves were 
being discovered from day to day. These physical surroundings 
contributed much to the solemnness of the gathering. 

The speakers' platform added little to the decorative features 
of the occasion. It was forty feet square and stood on the site now 
occtipied by the Gettysburg National Monument. The platform 
facecl away from the cemetery, however, so that the people as- 
sembled to hear the program would not be standing on that por- 
tion of the grounds where the soldiers were buried. 

The day itself, however, was a beautiful one and this contrib- 


uted much to the comfort of the people. But the brightness of the 
sun only accentuated the ugliness of the place which is now so 
beautiful and serene. 

A Few Appropriate Remarks 

WHEN Lincoln was invited to make "a few appropriate re- 
marks," as the letter of invitation addressed to him stated, 
it was apparently decided in Lincoln's mind that in one respect, 
at least, he would abide by the literal request of the committee — 
his remarks would be few. 

Lincoln's words were few, one hundred and sixty-five, to be 
exact, according to the most dependable stenographic report. 
James Grant Wilson claims it took "precisely one hundred and 
thirty-five seconds" to deliver the message. The President, a few 
days previous to leaving for Gettysburg had confided to a friend 
that his address was to be "short — short — short." 

The brevity of the message was not the most surprising char- 
acteristic of it, although it is said a photographer who planned 
to make a picture of Lincoln while speaking had insufficient time 
to get the camera adjusted before the address was over. 

The apparent care with which Lincoln had prepared the small 
part he was to take on the program was the o^tstanding feature 
of his efforts. As on occasions of similar dedications, according 
to Secretary Nicolay, the people were expecting "a few perfunc- 
tory words, the mere formality of official dedication." 

A formal statement by the President beginning, "as President 
of the United States I hereby, etc.," would have been appropriate 
but it was just like Lincoln to make something very beautiful out 
of a commonplace task. Without comment on what had been 


said before, without apology for lack of time, in simple and 
sympathetic words, he consecrated the burial field as "a final 
resting place for those who here gave their lives." 

"Under God" 

ALL public speakers are aware that there comes to one spon- 
taneously, on occasions of unusual emotional experiences, 
expressions which may have been lying dormant for years, 
apparently waiting for the proper moment to find voice. 

Lincoln's preliminary draft of the Gettysburg Address makes 
no mention of Deity, and this has been made a great point by 
those who would prefer to have it so. Every stenographic report 
of what Lincoln actually said, however, puts in the expression 
"under God" as having been spoken by the President. 

Back in Lincoln's childhood days, he had been greatly im- 
pressed by Weems' story of George Washington and he was able 
to quote many passages from this inspirational biography. 
Weems had one expression which he frequently used in his book, 
a word couplet — "under God." It was in the midst of Lincoln's 
final declaration that these two words sprang forth to hallow the 
entire address with the atmosphere of reverence. 

Government — Of, By, For — The People 

OFTTIMES a gem needs but the proper setting to bring out 
its brilliancy and full worth. Government of, by, and for 
the people was no new idea conceived by Abraham Lincoln, but he 
placed this jewel of democratic idealism as a crowning thought 
within the most eloquent oration of modern days. 

Five years before Gettysburg, Lincoln acquired two pamphlets 


containing addresses by Theodore Parker, delivered in 1858. In 
one of Parker's speeches, Lincoln underlined this statement: 
"Democracy — The All Man Power; government over all, by all, 
and for the sake of all." The other pamphlet contained a sermon 
delivered by Parker in Music Hall, Boston, on July 4, 1858, and 
these words Lincoln enclosed with a pencil: "Democracy is Direct 
Self-Government over all the people, for all the people, by all the 

Lincoln may have read in many instances statements which 
conveyed the thought with which he brought the Gettysburg 
Address to a close, but this slogan of a free people never had been 
spoken with more feeling, nor uttered in a more inspirational 
atmosphere, than on the nineteenth of November, 1863: 

"That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of free- 
dom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the 
people, shall not perish from the earth." 

Lincoln's Written and Spoken Versions 

FIVE different versions of the Gettysburg addresses, strange to 
say, were all written or spoken by Abraham Lincoln and there 
may have been others equally authentic. They can be identified 
as (i) preliminary writings, (2.) spoken words, and (3) revisory 
copies. One author has put it like this, "What he intended to say, 
what he said, what he wished he had said." 

It is apparent that one copy of the address, and this one is also 
revised, by the way, was written preliminary to the delivery of the 
speech. There is no way of learning how many revisions the 
speech underwent before it finally was delivered. 

The most dependable record of what Lincoln actually said 
seems to have been made by a member of the Boston commission 
who went to Gettysburg, instructed to take down in shorthand 
the words of the President. This he did and his transcription was 


not jumbled by telegraph operators or rapid fire typesetters but 
was carefully and accurately prepared to be included in the com- 
missioner's report. 

After the dedication, copies of Lincoln's address were re- 
quested by Edward Everett, George Bancroft, and probably 
others. The writing which he prepared for Everett and the two 
copies he wrote for Bancroft have been preserved. It is the version 
in the final Bancroft copy that is most widely used, and it has 
become known as the authentic Gettysburg Address of Abraham 
Lincoln. It may be seen in facsimile on the back cover of this 

The Aftermath 

EDWARD EVERETT, principal speaker at the dedication, 
wrote to the President the day following the exercises and 
complimented him on the timeliness of his remarks. Everett said 
in part: 

"Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts 
expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity and appropriate- 
ness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad if I 
could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the 
occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes." 

Lincoln's reply was as gracious as Mr. Everett's compliment. 
He wrote: 

"I am pleased to know that in your judgment the little I did say 
was not entirely a failure. I knew Mr. Everett would not fail." 

Mr. Everett did not fail in Lincoln's opinion, and more than 
a year later he was praising the words of Everett at Gettysburg. 
It is doubtful if Lincoln was ever conscious of the fact that his own 
Gettysburg Address was the real climax of all Amcric.m elo- 



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