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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Gettysburg Address

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 26, 2009

I was honored to deliver “The Gettysburg Address” as part of the Civil Choral Society concert held last weekend.


I researched this famous speech by Abraham Lincoln to provide background for my delivery, and was surprised to learn more about the speech.


First, researching “The Gettysburg Address” online proves that everyone needs to learn searching skills in today’s world.


The Internet provides a broad spectrum of information, and a variety of interpretations of this historical event.


I used the information provided by the Library of Congress and their Exhibition celebrating the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.


I confirmed that with the Gettysburg Foundation historical site, and even information from a printed book.


There are five known manuscript copies of “The Gettysburg Address,” of which the Library of Congress owns two.


The legend that Abraham Lincoln wrote the speech on the back of an envelope on his way to Gettysburg seems to be just that, a legend.


John Nicolay, one of Lincoln’s private secretaries, stated that the first page of the speech was already written in ink on “Executive Mansion” stationery before departing Washington, D.C., for delivery on November 19, 1863.


The term “White House” was coined later by President Theodore Roosevelt.


The second page was written in pencil on lined paper on the way.


A copy of the speech was presented to Nicolay, who kept the document until his 1901 death, when it was given to his colleague and Lincoln’s other private secretary, John Hay.


Lincoln gave Hay another copy of his speech, likely after returning to Washington, D.C.


Both copies were given to the Library of Congress by Hay’s descendants in 1916.


The other three copies of “The Gettysburg Address” were written by Lincoln for charitable purposes after its delivery.


The Illinois State History Society has the copy given to Edward Everett, the man who also spoke at Gettysburg; known for his lengthy 2 hour speech done before Lincoln’s address.


A copy requested by historian George Bancroft is located at Cornell University.


The final copy was made for Colonel Alexander Bliss. Bancroft’s step-son, and it today resides in the Lincoln Room of the White House.


The Bliss letter is the accepted text of “The Gettysburg Address” that is most commonly used today.


Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert Lincoln, performed a search for the “delivery copy” of the speech in the early 20th Century, and could not conclusively determine that either secretary’s copy was the copy used in delivery.


The article from the New York Times published the next day after the speech was interesting to me.


The reporter’s shorthand of the speech seems to be closest to the Bliss letter and shows the speech being interrupted 3 times by applause, with cheers and applause at the end of the speech.


Remembering that public address systems weren’t in common use until 1920, Lincoln’s speech was only likely heard by only the people physically closest to him.


Most of the crowd read the speech in the newspaper to learn what they couldn’t hear at Gettysburg.


The main point is that it is one of the greatest speeches in our history, and the differences in the five known copies are slight by most considerations.