The Gettysburg Address ► Throwback Thursday

On this day in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, considered one of the greatest speeches ever given in English.

A mere 271 words, the Gettysburg Address followed the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery by Edward Everett. That speech must have exhausted the crowd. It lasted more than 2 hours and contained more than 13,600 words.

Lincoln’s short speech lasted only a few minutes, but has gone down in history as one of the greatest of his career.

As the WikiWackyWoo explains, Lincoln was under the weather at the time:

During the train trip from Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg on November 18, Lincoln remarked to John Hay that he felt weak. On the morning of November 19, Lincoln mentioned to John Nicolay
that he was dizzy. In the railroad car the President rode with his
secretary, John G. Nicolay, his assistant secretary, John Hay, the three
members of his Cabinet who accompanied him, William Seward, John Usher and Montgomery Blair,
several foreign officials and others. Hay noted that during the speech
Lincoln’s face had ‘a ghastly color’ and that he was ‘sad, mournful,
almost haggard.’ After the speech, when Lincoln boarded the 6:30 pm
train for Washington, D.C., he was feverish and weak, with a severe
headache. A protracted illness followed, which included a vesicular rash
and was diagnosed as a mild case of smallpox. It thus seems highly likely that Lincoln was in the prodromal period of smallpox when he delivered the Gettysburg address.[10]

The Hay version of the speech

Yet, there’s no agreed upon text of the speech:

Despite the historical significance of Lincoln’s speech, modern
scholars disagree as to its exact wording, and contemporary
transcriptions published in newspaper accounts of the event and even
handwritten copies by Lincoln himself differ in their wording,
punctuation, and structure.[16][17]
Of these versions, the Bliss version, written well after the speech as a
favor for a friend, is viewed by many as the standard text.[18]
Its text differs, however, from the written versions prepared by
Lincoln before and after his speech. It is the only version to which
Lincoln affixed his signature, and the last he is known to have written.[18]

Here is the text that every grade school child memorized:

Four score 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 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. 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.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.