Why are there multiple versions of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address?
November 19, 2013 8:54 PM   Subscribe

In short, the "Question Title" provides my question... Why are there multiple versions of the Gettysburg Address?

There's been an uproar today that Obama left out 'under God' from his reading of the Address, and an answer that he was reading a specific version that didn't include those words.

Is there really more than one version? Why would there be? Is there a place where I can see all versions?

Please educate me.
posted by matty to Law & Government (7 answers total)
Best answer: There are five versions - two "originals" and three copies that he wrote for specific people way after the event itself.

Library of Congress says: "Of the five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address, the Library of Congress has two. President Lincoln gave one of these to each of his two private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. The other three copies of the Address were written by Lincoln for charitable purposes well after November 19. The copy for Edward Everett, the orator who spoke at Gettysburg for two hours prior to Lincoln, is at the Illinois State Historical Library in Springfield; the Bancroft copy, requested by historian George Bancroft, is at Cornell University in New York; the Bliss copy was made for Colonel Alexander Bliss, Bancroft's stepson, and is now in the Lincoln Room of the White House."
posted by gemmy at 8:58 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You should be able to see a collation of all five versions here, although the server seems to be under strain at the moment—the visualization keeps hanging on me. Maybe try again later?
posted by Orinda at 9:11 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: More than half the money for the purchase of the Everett copy ($60,000 total) by the state of Illinois was raised by the schoolchildren of Illinois, during the Depression, in pennies. It's at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, which is a very good museum and if you should visit it you can see that copy in person, among other important Lincoln artifacts.

The Bliss copy, one of the later three copies, is usually given as the standard text.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:12 PM on November 19, 2013

Best answer: The comments above have covered that there are various versions pretty well, this article in the Atlantic from a couple years ago helps explain why. To Lincoln was a literary perfectionist and constantly edited his remarks, including on the fly while giving a speech, sort of like how Bill Clinton does now.

He also relied on the AP report for the final draft that was distributed. But the reporter stopped writing to listen so the the AP draft is probably not true to the moment, either. But since there is no recording of him giving the speech, we’ll probably never know exactly what Lincoln said that day.
posted by thebestsophist at 10:44 PM on November 19, 2013

Best answer: Wikipedia covers the controversy around the phrase "under God" in the address and the different written version that exist. TL:DR; we're pretty certain President Lincoln used that phrase on that day.
posted by sbutler at 11:08 PM on November 19, 2013

Best answer: History is a lie told by a fool.

I was present for everything that ever happened to me, and am unclear on a lot of that. I mean I was RIGHT THERE and am probably wrong about my own life.

No tape recorders or video or film at Gettysburg. And even if there were, film captures photons, not reality. Perfection is a chimera. John Kennedy and Oswald/Ruby... filmed and dissected and bickered about now for 1/2 a century. Churchill's writings on WW2... first hand accounts with copious notes from an actual historian (Churchill) and full of factual holes, bias, omissions, self-serving interpretations. I've often wondered if more than a few hundred people were present, how ANY of them heard Lincoln, anyway?

Regardless, what we have is some inconsistent primary texts from the author and some from an observer or two. It is related to but not the actual thing that he said. Close. Does it matter? If 200 people heard it, there were 200 sets of partial perceptions. The cloud of sentiment and intent that the words written describe is pretty much the same shape. Like an elephant drawn in the sand.... detail suffers but the general concept is there.

The "under god" contingent sounds like the birther crew, intent on finding some problem in whatever Obama does. Frankly, my fellow southerners were engaged in the biblically accepted practice of slavery, and the both sides in the biblically discouraged act of murdering their brothers, and it seems a bad idea to pull in god to somehow improve the reality of the mess. the same god was worshiped on both sides. you'd think they'd think, but then, evidence of that is eternally thin. i despair of sanity from that quarter.

history comes with built-in uncertainty. the best that can be done is reducing it with inquiry and consensus and appeals to authority. nothing is ever fully and perfectly documented, and when it gets close, the arguments shift to motivations, which amplifies the guesswork.
posted by FauxScot at 3:45 AM on November 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Welcome to the wonderful world of history! Here's how this happens:

Lincoln actually had five copies of the speech prepared. The address was recorded by a reporter standing off to the side while Lincoln spoke, but he later admitted that he got caught up in the event and didn't capture it all. Afterwards, Lincoln was kind enough to let him see a copy of the prepared remarks, which the reporter used to fill in his notes. (So right here, we already have seven versions: Five prepared, one presented, and one recorded).

The reporter filed the remarks with his publication, which ran them in full. But other newspapers reprinted shortened copies of the speech, or only specific parts of it. It's funny to think now that they wouldn't make space for all ten sentences, but it gives you some perspective of how significant/insignificant people found the remarks to be at the time. It's probably impossible to count how many places it was reprinted incorrectly or partially, but this adds to the number of "copies" that were created. You can see why this gets so confusing.

Interestly enough, it's not just the words of the speech that is in dispute. There are also questions about where the remarks were given (Gettysburg, obviously, but the specific location of the dias is still in doubt, although modern historians are largely in agreement that it was about 40 yards from where it was originally believed to be).
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:28 AM on November 20, 2013

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