Today marks the 150th Anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln delivering one of the most memorable speeches in United States history. On November 19, 1863, Lincoln was the second speaker at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He followed famed orator Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours. Lincoln’s 272 word speech only took him two to three minutes but he reinforced to the war-weary public why the Union had to continue to fight. The Gettysburg Address or, as Lincoln called it, the “little speech” is now synonymous with the struggle for freedom.
The Gettysburg Address (standard text inscribed on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial):
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on 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 battlefield 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 cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. 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 that these dead shall not have died in vain, 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.
There are five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address. President Lincoln gave one copy to John Nicolay and John Hays – his two private secretaries. The copy that Nicolay received is often called the “first draft” because it is believed to be the earliest copy that exists. Hays’ copy contains several omissions and Lincoln inserted some words with his own hand. Both the Nicolay copy and Hays copy are now in the possession of the Library of Congress. Lincoln wrote the other three copies for charity purposes long after he delivered the speech on November 19. Edward Everett was given a copy which is now in the Illinois State Historical Library, historian George Bancroft’s is now at Cornell University and Colonel Alexander Bliss’ copy is housed in the Lincoln Room of the White House.