The Green Papers
The Green Papers
Historical Data

an early draft of the Gettysburg Address

Wed 19 Nov 2014

[What follows this Note in italics is an early draft, crafted before Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on 19 November 1863: it is one of the two known pre-speech drafts in Lincoln's hand, each of which claims to have been the very paper Lincoln pulled from his coat pocket as he stood up to speak that afternoon (although whether either- let alone which- was, in fact, what Lincoln held in hand at Gettysburg is undetermined, as well as subject to much dispute).

It might well surprise the reader that the Gettysburg Address was not at all included, in print, within the main portion of the multi-volume set entitledA Compilation of the MESSAGES AND PAPERS OF THE PRESIDENTS edited- for its first edition in 1897- by Congressman James D. Richardson of Tennessee (who would, later, serve as House Minority Leader) at the specific direction of Congress (this multi-volume work would be re-issued at intervals- with additional volumes collecting the relevant Executive Branch papers of each new Administration- up through 1927 [Richardson himself had died in 1914]). Evidently, the speech was not at all considered to be an official"message" or "paper" of Abraham Lincoln's Presidency (as were- of course- Annual Messages to Congress [that is: 'State of the Union' 'Addresses', not delivered before Congress in person in Lincoln's day] and Special Messages, Executive Orders and Presidential Proclamations).

However, the Gettysburg Address had become so iconic by 1897 that it could not seriously be ignored by those putting this compilation together (nor, for that matter, the very Congress- one, at the time, containing many a Civil War veteran, whether from North or South- that had specifically authorized it by statute): therefore, a facsimile of one of the two early pre-speech drafts in Lincoln's own hand appeared over a three-page spread (itself placed among the printed texts of the official "messages and papers" Lincoln had issued throughout the 1st Session of the 38th Congress [which had first convened only a few weeks after Lincoln had so spoken at Gettysburg]) with a fourth page of said spread explaining this thusly:



Immediately after the battle of Gettysburg, Congress set aside the battlefield as a national burial ground for soldiers; and it was at the dedication of the new national cemetery on November 19, 1863, that Lincoln delivered the address which has forever afterwards been called by the name of the little town in Pennsylvania. There is some dispute as to the manner in which the address was prepared, one legend running that Lincoln wrote it in a few minutes on the back of an official government envelope while on the special train which was conveying him to the dedication ceremonies. The consensus of valid opinion, however, indicates that the address was prepared with great care in Washington some days before it was delivered, although Lincoln may have slightly revised it on the evening before or the day of the dedication itself. Lincoln held a written copy of his remarks in his hand when he rose to speak after the two hours' address of Edward Everett, whose sonorous and polished phrases had mightily moved the audience before him. The fewness and simplicity of Lincoln's immortal words, after Everett's lengthy peroration, could not but engrave them indelibly on the minds of those who were privileged to hear them.


However, and again, the facsimile so provided within the aforementioned compilation was of a version of the speech which- because it is an early draft of it- differs significantly from both the version(s) of same as is found within the transcriptions of it that appeared in the contemporaneous Press, as well as from the 'canonical' Gettysburg Address which has become most familiar to most Americans. A printed version of what was put forth in the facsimile chosen by the editor(s) of MESSAGES AND PAPERS OF THE PRESIDENTS now appears below.]


Executive Mansion

Washington, [undated]

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal".

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that that nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate- we can not consecrate- we can not hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, to here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us- that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion- that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


[It should be fairly noted that- within the alphabetized INDEX volumes of MESSAGES AND PAPERS OF THE PRESIDENT, under the heading Gettysburg Address- the printed text of the 'canonical' version of the speech was provided: after (first) repeating in toto the single paragraph found on the fourth page of the spread including the facsimile of one of the early drafts (that which has already been noted above), the editors of the compilation included a further explanatory paragraph reading, in part, as follows:


The speech stands out as an acknowledged classic,— many scholars pronouncing it the best short speech ever delivered. Lincoln made several autograph copies, by request, for different individuals and patriotic institutions. Various slight alterations appear in the various reproductions and it is not certain which of the manuscripts is precisely correct... (NOTE: the editors of the compilation now refer to what has become the 'canonical' text of the Gettysburg Address they are about to provide at this point, saying only that it) does not purport to be the original, but is a copy made by Lincoln especially for the Soldiers and Sailors Fair at Baltimore in 1864.

This is, therefore, that now-standardized text of the Gettysburg Address based on the 'Bliss draft'- named for Alexander Bliss, stepson of George Bancroft (the 19th Century "Father of American History") who, in 1864, compiled a collection he himself entitled Autograph Leaves of Our Country's Authors: Bliss was the one who actually published this compilation of facsimile drafts of writings and speeches by famous Americans (the potential enforcement of the copyright of this work- still in effect when MESSAGES AND PAPERS OF THE PRESIDENTS was first issued in 1897- may well explain why MESSAGES AND PAPERS had to use a different draft of the Gettysburg Address for their own facsimile of same in Lincoln's own hand).]

Created Wed 19 Nov 2014. Modified .