Lincoln at Gettysburg

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Only five manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address exist. Two are in the Library of Congress. The third is is at the Illinois State Historical Library at Springfield, the fourth is at Cornell University and the fifth is now in the Lincoln Room of the White House. > Compare four of the copies

The Gettysburg Bibliophile

It was a bright, crisp Pennsylvania morning in November, 1863, when Abraham Lincoln mounted a tiny horse and proceeded from the Diamond in the center of Gettysburg, down Baltimore Street to the Evergreen Cemetery. Lincoln on horseback, with long legs dangling and coat tails flopping, was far from an inspiring sight. But whatever sense of the comical may have made itself felt, it disappeared completely when the first strong words of his address rolled out into the cool fall air.

"I was so close to the President," Mrs. John T. Myers describes the moment, "and heard all of the address, but it seemed short. Then there was an impressive silence, like our Menallen Friends' Meeting. There was no applause when he stopped speaking." Few knew it at the time, but Lincoln had just uttered what would become the most revered speech in American history.

Four months earlier, shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin asked David Wills of Gettysburg to oversee the cleanup of the battlefield. Rather than hastily burying the dead where they lay, Wills acquired 17 acres of land for use as a national cemetery - a permanent resting place for the dead of the battle.

Burial, or more accurately, reinterrment, began not long after. On September 23, wishing to formally dedicate the cemetery, Wills invited the highly respected Edward Everett to give a speech. On November 2, 1863, almost as an afterthought, Wills invited President Lincoln to make "a few appropriate remarks." Lincoln accepted the invitation, and gave a speech that lasted only a few minutes, as opposed to Everett's two-hour oration. Everett later wrote Lincoln saying 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.

Of the five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address, two are held by the Library of Congress. President Lincoln gave one of these to each of his two private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. The copy on exhibit, which belonged to Nicolay, is often called the "first draft" because it is believed to be the earliest copy that exists. The "second draft" was given to John Hay. His descendants donated both it and the Nicolay copy to the Library of Congress in 1916.

The other three copies were written by Lincoln for charitable purposes well after November 19. One copy was given to Edward Everett, the other speaker that day. It is housed at the Illinois State Historical Library at Springfield. A copy given to historian George Bancroft is at Cornell University. A fifth copy was made for Bancroft's stepson, Colonel Alexander Bliss. This is the copy presently kept in the Lincoln Room of the White House.

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