Gettysburg Address facts for kids
The Gettysburg Address is a speech by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. It was delivered on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863. This speech was made during the American Civil War, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This was four-and-a-half months after the Union Army had a victory over the Confederate States Army at the Battle of Gettysburg.
The address is one of the greatest speeches in the history of the United States. Lincoln spoke of how humans were equal as it said in the Declaration of Independence. He also said the Civil War was a fight not simply for the Union, but "a new birth of freedom" that would make everyone truly equal in one united nation.
The speech famously begins with "Four score and seven years ago", referring to the American Revolution in 1776. "Score" in this case is an old word meaning "twenty." Lincoln used the ceremony at Gettysburg to encourage the people to help America's democracy, so that the "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish (be destroyed) from the earth".
The speech is very important in the popular culture of the United States. However, people are not sure about the exact words of the speech. The five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address are different from one another in some details. They are also different from the words of the Gettysburg Address that have been printed in modern newspapers.
About 172,000 American soldiers fought in the Battle of Gettysburg from July 1–3, 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg was an important influence on the American Civil War and on the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where only 2,400 people lived. The battlefield had more than 7,500 bodies of dead soldiers and 5,000 horses. Sarah Broadhead, a wife and mother living in the town, feared that they would "be visited with pestilence". Eliza Farnham, a nurse, called the place "one vast hospital". An army medical officer spoke similarly: "The ... ten days following the battle of Gettysburg was ... the greatest amount of human suffering known in this nation since its birth".
The people of Gettysburg wanted to bury the dead properly. At first, they planned to buy land for a cemetery and ask the families of the dead to pay for the burial. However, David Willis, a rich 32-year-old lawyer, did not like this idea. He wrote to the Governor of Pennsylvania, Andrew Gregg Curtin, asking that a National Cemetery be supported by the states. Wills was allowed to buy 17 acres (69,000 m²) for a cemetery to honor the people who died in the battle. He paid $2,475.87 for the land.
At first, Wills wanted to dedicate this new cemetery on Wednesday, October 23. He asked Edward Everett to be the main speaker. Everett was a very famous orator at that time. He had also served as Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, Governor of Massachusetts, president of Harvard University, and Vice Presidential candidate. However, Everett replied that he would not be able to prepare a good speech so quickly, and wanted to move the date of the dedication. The organizing committee agreed, and the dedication was moved to Thursday, November 19.
Wills and the event committee then asked President Lincoln to join in the ceremony. Wills' letter said, "It is the desire that, ... you, as Chief Executive of the nation, formally (officially) set apart these grounds ... by a few appropriate (proper) remarks". Lincoln was officially asked to join only 17 days before the ceremony, while Everett had received his invitation 40 days earlier. "Although there is some evidence Lincoln expected Wills's letter, its late date makes the author (writer) appear presumptuous ... Seventeen days was extraordinarily (remarkably) short notice for presidential participation even by nineteenth-century standards". Also, Wills's letter "made it equally clear to the president that he would have only a small part in the ceremonies".
Lincoln came by train to Gettysburg on November 18. He spent the night in Wills's house on the Gettysburg town square. There, he finished the speech he had written in Washington, D.C. There is a popular story that Lincoln completed his address on the train on the back of an envelope, but it is not true. There are several early copies on Executive Mansion paper, and reports of Lincoln finishing his speech while he was a guest of David Wills at Gettysburg. On the morning of November 19 at 9:30 a.m., Lincoln, riding a brown horse, joined the townspeople, and widows marching out to the grounds to be dedicated.
About 15,000 people went to the ceremony. This included the governors of six of the 24 Union states. They were Andrew Gregg Curtin of Pennsylvania, Augustus Bradford of Maryland, Oliver P. Morton of Indiana, Horatio Seymour of New York, Joel Parker of New Jersey, and David Tod of Ohio. Canadian politician William McDougall came as Lincoln's guest. Historians do not agree about the exact place where the dedication ceremony was held inside the cemetery. Moving all the bodies to the graves in the cemetery was less than half complete on the day of the ceremony.
By August 1863, millions of people had been killed or hurt because of Civil War battles. This made people in the North begin to dislike Lincoln and the war. Lincoln's 1863 drafts were not popular, and people became angriest with them around the time of the New York Draft Riots. This was just ten days after the Battle of Gettysburg. In September 1863, Pennsylvania's Governor Curtin told Lincoln that people were turning against the war effort:
If the election were to occur now, the result would be extremely doubtful (not sure), and although most of our discreet friends are sanguine of the result, my impression is, the chances would be against us. The draft is very odious in the State... the Democratic leaders have succeeded in exciting prejudice and passion, and have infused their poison into the minds of the people to a very large extent, and the changes are against us.
In the summer of 1864, Lincoln was worried that the people's bad feelings would make him lose the Presidential election. In the fall of 1863, he grew very concerned about keeping up the Union's spirits toward the war effort. That was the greatest purpose of Lincoln's Address at Gettysburg.
Program and Everett's "Gettysburg Oration"
The program organized for that day by Wills and his committee included:
- Music, by Birgfield's Band
- Prayer, by Reverend T.H. Stockton, D.D.
- Music, by the Marine Band
- Oration, by Hon. Edward Everett
- Music, Hymn made by B.B. French, Esq.
- Dedicatory Remarks, by the President of the United States
- Dirge, sung by a chosen Choir
- Benediction, by Reverend H.L. Baugher, D.D.
Lincoln's short speech became known in history as one of the best examples of English public speeches. Everett's two-hour oration was called the "Gettysburg address" that day, but his oration is not well-known today. It began:
- "Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the ... silence of God and Nature. But the duty ... must be performed; — grant me, I pray you, ... your sympathy".
It ended two hours later with:
- "But they, I am sure, will join us in saying, as we bid farewell to the dust of these martyr-heroes, that ... in the glorious annals of our common country, there will be no brighter page than that which relates the Battles of Gettysburg".
Text of Gettysburg Address
Lincoln's speech is very important in history, but modern scholars do not agree about the words of the speech. There are many different modern versions printed in newspaper accounts of the event. Among these, the Bliss version, written some time after the speech for a friend, is seen by lots of people as the most reliable text. Its text is different, however, from the written versions prepared by Lincoln before and after his speech. It is the only version Lincoln put his signature on. It is also the last he is known to have written.
|“||Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived (started, made) 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 that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
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 consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract (take away). The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve (decide) that these dead shall not have died in vain (for nothing)—that this nation, under God, 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.
In Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills notes the similarity between Lincoln's speech and Pericles's Funeral Oration during the Peloponnesian War (James McPherson and Gore Vidal also note this). Pericles' speech begins with remembering honored people: "I shall begin with our ancestors: it is both just and proper that they should have the honour of the first mention on an occasion like the present". This is very much like the Gettysburg Address's famous beginning. In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln had begun by speaking of how "our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation". He then praises their State's firm democracy: "If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all". He honors the dead's sacrifice: "Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour, but met danger face to face". He also warmly encourages the living to continue to fight for true democracy: "You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may have a happier issue".
But writer Adam Gopnik felt differently. In The New Yorker, he said that Everett's Oration was openly neoclassical. For example, Everett spoke directly about Marathon and Pericles. But he said that "Lincoln’s rhetoric is, instead, deliberately Biblical". He added that it is hard to find any obviously classical references in all of his speeches. Gopnik felt that "Lincoln had mastered the sound of the King James Bible so completely that he could recast (make again) abstract issues of constitutional law in Biblical terms (words from the Bible), making the proposition (suggestion) that Texas and New Hampshire should be forever bound by a single post office sound like something right out of Genesis".
There are many theories about where Lincoln's expression of "government of the people, by the people, for the people" came from. In The American Monthly Review of Reviews, it is suggested that the writings of William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, much influenced Lincoln. William Herndon wrote in Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of A Great Life that he had brought some of the sermons of abolitionist minister Theodore Parker to Lincoln, who had been moved by them.
|"I brought with me additional sermons and lectures of Theodore Parker, who was warm in his commendation of Lincoln. One of these was a lecture on 'The Effect of Slavery on the American People' ... which I gave to Lincoln, who read and returned it (gave it back). He liked especially the ... expression, which he marked with a pencil, and which he ... afterwards used in his Gettysburg Address: 'Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.'"|
|Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of A Great Life|
Craig R. Smith, In "Criticism of Political Rhetoric and Disciplinary Integrity", suggested that the Gettysburg Address was influenced by the speech of Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster. In his "Second Reply to Hayne", Webster had famously cried out, "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable"! In this 1830 speech, Webster had also described the Federal Government as "made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people". This expression was very similar to Lincoln's "government of the people, by the people, for the people." Webster also said, "This government ... is the independent offspring of the popular will. It is not the creature of State legislatures ... if the whole truth must be told, the people brought it into existence, established it, and have hitherto (until now) supported it, for the very purpose, amongst others, of imposing certain salutary restraints on State sovereignties".
Wills was interested in how Lincoln used the ideas of birth, life, and death. Lincoln had described the nation as "brought forth", "conceived", and that shall not "perish". Others, such as Allen C. Guelzo, suggested that Lincoln's expression "four score and seven" was about the King James Version of the Bible's Psalms 90:10. There, man's life is described as "threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years".
Each of the five manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address are named for the person who received it from Lincoln. Lincoln gave a copy to each of his private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. Both were written around the time of his November 19 address. The other three copies of the address (the Everett, Bancroft, and Bliss copies) were written a long time after November 19. They were written by Lincoln for charitable purposes. The Bliss copy has become the most widely accepted text of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. This is partly because Lincoln gave it a title and signed and dated it.
There has been some controversy about the two earliest drafts of the Address. Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, made Nicolay and Hay the legal guardians of Lincoln's papers in 1874. The Nicolay Copy appeared as a copy in an article written by Nicolay in 1894. After that, it was thought to be among the papers passed to Hay by Nicolay's daughter Helen when Nicolay died in 1901. Robert Lincoln began a search for the first copy in 1908. He discovered a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address among the papers of John Hay—a copy now known as the "Hay Draft".
The Hay Draft was different from the Gettysburg Address printed by Nicolay in 1894 in many important ways. For example, it was written on a different kind of paper, had a different number of words on every line, had a different number of lines, and had corrections in Lincoln's handwriting.
Both the Hay and Nicolay copies of the Address are inside the Library of Congress. They are inside specially designed, temperature-controlled, sealed containers with argon gas. This is to protect the documents from oxidation.
The Nicolay Copy is often called the "first draft". This is because it is thought to be the earliest copy that exists. Scholars are not sure if the Nicolay Copy was actually the copy Lincoln read from at Gettysburg on November 19. In an 1894 article, Nicolay wrote that Lincoln had brought to Gettysburg the first part of the speech written in ink. Nicolay also said that Lincoln had written the second page in pencil on lined paper before November 19. Matching folds can still be seen on the two pages, suggesting it could be the copy that eyewitnesses say Lincoln took from his coat pocket and read at the ceremony. But some of the words and expressions in the Nicolay Copy do not match modern transcriptions of Lincoln's speech. Because of this, some people believe that the text used at Gettysburg has been lost. The words "under God", for example, are missing in this copy from the phrase "that this nation (under God) shall have a new birth of freedom..." If the Nicolay draft was the copy Lincoln read from, either the modern transcriptions are not correct, or Lincoln spoke differently from his written text several times. John Nicolay kept this copy of the Gettysburg Address until he died in 1901. When he died, it was passed on to his friend John Hay. It is on permanent display as part of the American Treasures exhibition of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
In 1906, it was first announced that the Hay Copy had been discovered. It had been found among the papers of John Hay when people were searching for the "original manuscript" of the Address. There are some important differences from the copy of the Address described by John Hay in his article. There are many important words taken out and added by Lincoln's own handwriting, which often changed the basic meaning of the sentence. In this copy, like in the Nicolay Copy, the words "under God" are not there.
This version has been described as "the most inexplicable" of the drafts. It is sometimes referred to as the "second draft". The "Hay Copy" was probably made on the morning of the delivery of the Address. It could also have been made shortly after Lincoln came back to Washington. The people who believe it was completed on the morning of his address note that it has some expressions that are not in the first draft but are in the reports of the address and in later copies by Lincoln. It is likely, they say, that Lincoln used this copy when he delivered the address. Lincoln later gave this copy to his other secretary, John Hay. Hay's descendants gave it and the Nicolay Copy to the Library of Congress in 1916.
The Everett Copy is also known as the "Everett-Keyes Copy". It was sent by President Lincoln to Edward Everett in early 1864. Everett, who was collecting the speeches at the Gettysburg dedication into one book to sell for hurt soldiers at New York's Sanitary Commission Fair, had asked for it. The Illinois State Historical Library in Springfield, Illinois has it on display. It is in the Treasures Gallery of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
The Bancroft Copy of the Gettysburg Address was written by President Lincoln in February 1864. The famous historian George Bancroft, the "father of American History", who wrote History of the United States, had asked him to write it for him. Bancroft wanted to put this copy in Autograph Leaves of Our Country's Authors and sell it at a Soldiers' and Sailors' Sanitary Fair in Baltimore. But Lincoln wrote on both sides of the paper, so he could not use it for this purpose. Therefore, Bancroft was allowed to keep it. This copy was kept by the Bancroft family for many years. Then, it was sold to different dealers and bought by Nicholas and Marguerite Lilly Notes. They donated it to Cornell in 1949. It is now kept by the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in the Carl A. Kroch Library at Cornell University. Among the five copies, it is the only one to be privately owned.
When Lincoln found that his fourth written copy could not be used, he wrote a fifth copy. The Bliss Copy was named for Colonel Alexander Bliss, Bancroft's stepson. It is not known if Lincoln made any more copies. Lincoln wrote this copy with much care. He gave it a title—"Address delivered at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg"—and signed and dated this copy. In fact, it was the only copy of the Gettysburg Address he signed. Partly because of this, it has become the most well-known version of the Gettysburg Address. It is the source of most modern copies of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
Today, this copy hangs in the Lincoln Room of the White House. It is a present from Oscar B. Cintas, who used to be a Cuban Ambassador to the United States. Cintas liked to collect art and manuscripts. He had bought the Bliss Copy for $54,000 at a public auction in 1949. It "set a new high record for the sale of a document at public auction". The Castro government claimed Cintas' properties after it became powerful in 1959. But Cintas, who died in 1957, had willed the Gettysburg Address to the American people, if it would be kept at the White House. It was moved there in 1959, and is still there today.
Another source of the Gettysburg Address is the copy from the Associated Press. It was copied from the notes taken by reporter Joseph L. Gilbert. It is different from the drafted words in a few ways.
Contemporary sources and reaction
Eyewitnesses reports about Lincoln's performance are various. In 1931, 87-year-old Mrs. Sarah A. Cooke Myers suggested that there was a dignified silence after Lincoln finished his speech. She had been there when she was 19 years old. "I was close to the President 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". Historian Shelby Foote said that the applause, which came after a long time, was "barely polite". But the governor of Pennsylvania, Curtin, said, "He pronounced (said) that speech in a voice that all the multitude (people) heard. The crowd was hushed into silence because the President stood before them ... It was so Impressive! It was the common remark of everybody. Such a speech, as they said it was!"
There is a story that Lincoln turned to his bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon and said that his speech "won't scour (wouldn't be successful)". Garry Wills argued that this story was not true. He said that Lamon was the only person who remembered this remark, and that it was not reliable. Garry Wills felt that Lincoln had done what he wanted to do at Gettysburg.
The following day, Everett wrote a letter to Lincoln. In the letter, he praised the President for his speech, saying, "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central (main) idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes". Lincoln replied that he was glad the speech was not a "total complete failure".
Other public reaction to the speech was different according to each party. The Democratic Chicago Times said, "The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances (remarks) of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States". However, the Republican New York Times praised the speech. The Springfield, MA. Republican newspaper printed the entire speech, calling it "a perfect gem" that was "deep in feeling, compact (simple) in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma". The Republican said that Lincoln's short remarks would "repay further study as the model speech".
William R. Rathvon is the only known eyewitness of the Gettysburg Address to have left an audio recording of what he remembered. One year before he died in 1939, Rathvon's remarks were recorded on February 12, 1938. It included his reading the address itself. The title of the record was "I Heard Lincoln That Day - William R. Rathvon, TR Productions". The National Public Radio (NPR) discovered a copy during a "Quest for Sound" project in 1999. NPR allows people to hear the record around Lincoln's birthday.
The only known and confirmed photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg was taken by David Bachrach. It was identified in the Mathew Brady collection of photographic plates in 1952. Lincoln's speech was short, but he and others sat for hours during the rest of the program. Because Everett's speech was very long, and because it took a long time for 19th century photographers to prepare for taking a picture, it is likely that photographers were not prepared for how short Lincoln's speech was. In 2006, John Richter identified two more photographs in the Library of Congress collection.
The Nicolay and Hay copies do not have the words "under God", but they appear in the three later copies (Everett, Bancroft, and Bliss). So, some skeptics suggest that Lincoln did not say "under God" at Gettysburg. Yet at least three reporters telegraphed the words of the Gettysburg Address with the words "under God" included. Historian William E. Barton says:
- "Every stenographic report, good, bad and indifferent poor, says 'that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom.' There was no common source from which all the reporters could have obtained those words but from Lincoln's own lips at the time of delivery. It will not do to say that [Secretary of War] Stanton suggested those words after Lincoln's return to Washington, for the words were telegraphed by at least three reporters on the afternoon of the delivery".
The reporters who were there at that time included Joseph Gilbert, Charles Hale, John R. Young. There were also reporters from the Cincinnati Commercial, New York Tribune, and New York Times. Charles Hale "had notebook and pencil in hand, [and] took down the slow-spoken words of the President". "He took down what he declared was the exact language of Lincoln's address ... His associates confirmed his testimony, which was received, as it deserved to be at its face value". Lincoln probably spoke differently from what he had prepared and added the expression when he was speaking.
The Gettysburg Address's importance in the history of the United States can be seen by the long time it has been a part of American culture. Popular works often refer to the Gettysburg Address as if expecting that the audience will know Lincoln's words. Many years have passed after the Address was delivered, but it is still one of the most famous speeches in American history. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous speech of "I Have a Dream" spoke of the Gettysburg Address. In August 1963, King spoke of President Lincoln and his well-known words: "Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This ... decree came as a great ... light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of ... injustice".
The Constitution of France spoke of France as a "gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple et pour le peuple" ("government of the people, by the people, and for the people"). This was a direct translation of Lincoln's words.
The address has become a part of American tradition. It is studied in schools and warmly praised by writers. The Gettysburg Address shows an important interpretation of the Declaration of Independence that is still remembered and used. It is widely accepted as one of the most important documents in U.S. history, together with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. To this day, it is one of the most famous, beloved, and most quoted of modern speeches.
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