For the first time in history, all five of Lincoln’s handwritten versions of the
Gettysburg Address are presented as full-color, full–size facsimiles —
an exclusive from Levenger Press, in partnership with the Library of Congress.
Scroll down to enjoy excerpts.
It is etched into one wall of the Lincoln Memorial and
into the psyche of millions of Americans: Lincoln’s deeply poetic and quietly passionate
Gettysburg Address. The words themselves were written in the creator’s hand not
once but at least five times, each version different from the prior.
All five of Lincoln’s handwritten versions are, for the first time, reproduced in
true size and color by Levenger Press, in partnership with the Library of Congress.
Along with these striking facsimiles (two of which are also provided unbound, and
folded as Lincoln did) are the letters, telegrams, programs and maps culled from
the prodigious Gettysburg archives at the Library of Congress. Adding context and
insight are the narratives by four leading Lincoln scholars.
Find excerpts from these narratives below.
David C. Mearns and Lloyd A. Dunlap
were both highly regarded members of the Library of Congress staff who specialized
in Lincoln and the Civil War. This excerpt is from their landmark 1963 study of
the Gettysburg Address and explains the provenance of Lincoln’s fifth handwritten
version, known as the Bliss Copy.
Since it represents Lincoln’s last-known revision, it has become accepted as the
standard text, although it differs from the Bancroft copy, aside from punctuation,
only in the omission of “here” in the phrase “they here gave.” The Bliss copy is
the only one dated and signed by President Lincoln.
The originals of the manuscripts lithographed for the volume, including the Gettysburg
Address, remained with Colonel Bliss and his family until 1949, when they were sold
at an auction in New York City. The Lincoln manuscript was purchased by the late
Oscar B. Cintas, a businessman of Havana, Cuba, who was once Ambassador to the United
States. By his will, the copy became the property of the people of this country,
and, at his stipulation, it is now installed in the Lincoln Room in the White House.
Douglas L. Wilson is the
award-winning author of Lincoln’s Sword and the co-director of the Lincoln
Studies Center at Knox College. His new commentary for this book explains how and
why Lincoln came to write the speech he did—not always for the reasons many
The calculated brevity of the speech, and the resulting compression of language
and expression, doubtless contributed to the confusion of an audience of listeners
expecting to hear something very different. But it had great utility for the other
audiences that the author undoubtedly had in mind.
The most immediate of these were, of course, millions of newspaper readers. In an
age where newspapers were virtually the only access Americans had to news of important
events, the great majority of Northern adults would have seen, usually on the front
page, not just a notice of the President's speech at the Gettysburg ceremony, but,
because of its brevity, the speech itself in its entirety. The occasion was such
that even Democratic newspapers, in other respects uniformly hostile to the Lincoln
administration, duly carried the telegraphed account of the dedication, which included
the brief remarks of the Chief Magistrate.
The experience of the readers of these remarks tended to be very different from
that of the listeners at Gettysburg, for as the editor of Harper’s Weekly pointed
out a few weeks later, its words could not be read “without kindling emotion.” The
praise that the President was apparently most proud of came from none other than
the featured speaker at the ceremony, Edward Everett, the nation's most accomplished
orator. His compliment came not in the immediate aftermath of the speech at Gettysburg,
but after Everett had had a chance to read it the next morning in a newspaper. In
a letter written to Lincoln the same day, the great orator said: “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.”
Dr. John R. Sellers, recently
retired as Lincoln Curator at the Library of Congress, provides a provocative assessment
of the two versions of the Gettysburg Address known as the Nicolay and Hay copies.
These two earliest copies are, unquestionably, genuine Lincoln autographs. But are
the names by which they are known legally correct, or even merited? The only evidence
that the Nicolay draft, judged by most Lincoln scholars to be the earliest copy,
was once owned by John G. Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary, is a statement Nicolay’s
daughter Helen made to Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son….
The Hay copy of the Gettysburg Address presents an even greater conundrum. It is
certainly the most mysterious of the five surviving drafts; we do not know exactly
when or why it was written.