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Remember – November 19th

I write this blog on November 19, 2016, the 153rd anniversary of perhaps the most notable short speech ever given by a President of the United States.  The Gettysburg Address.

While only ten sentences in length, it remains one of the most powerful and meaningful speeches in not just American history, but of all time.  And in my opinion, the sentence that makes the Gettysburg Address so powerful is this one:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

Lincoln had no way of knowing that after November 19, 1863, that his humbling comment would be completely wrong.  The world not only noted what was said, but has memorialized it and teaches it in every high school history class.  The world remembered both what Lincoln said and what “they” – the soldiers from both the Union and the Confederacy – did on that battleground.

One of only two verified photos of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg on Nov 19, 1863.

One of only two verified photos of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg on Nov 19, 1863.

On June 1, 1865, just six weeks after Lincoln’s death, Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner would state in his eulogy for Lincoln:

The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech.”

But of course, there is no history without some controversy.

Lincoln was asked to speak at Gettysburg to dedicate and commemorate the establishment of the first national cemetery for fallen soldiers, but President Lincoln was not the featured speaker.  Rather, Edward Everett, a noted orator and former president of Harvard University, delivered the keynote address at the dedication.  His speech was more than two hours long and was said to have been bold and powerful.  But it was a 272 word, two minute long speech by Lincoln that would become famous.

The Gettysburg Address has been memorialized in the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC – at least one version of it.  Did you know there are five versions of the Gettysburg Address?  And although all five have been verified to be in Lincoln’s handwriting, each one has slightly different wording

The version that has become the standard and most used is called the Bliss copy, but it is suspected that it was not the original version given by Lincoln.  After Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, he was asked for copies of it.  The Bliss copy is the last known copy penned by Lincoln and the only one that he dated and signed on the original manuscript.  It was written for, and given to George Bancroft who wanted to use it to raise funds for soldiers.  Bancroft was a historian and would pass the original copy to his stepson, Colonel Alexander Bliss.  That copy is now on display in the Lincoln bedroom at the Whitehouse.

Other copies were penned by Lincoln for other close friends and political partners.  The copy given to John Nicolay, President Lincoln’s personal secretary, is thought to be the first draft of the speech and is owned by the Library of Congress.  The Hay copy, given to Whitehouse staff member John Hay, is thought to be the second draft of the speech and it has notes and edits in Lincoln’s handwriting on it.  It is also kept at the Library of Congress.  The third copy is known as the Everett copy.  It was penned for Edward Everett, the keynote speaker at the Gettysburg national cemetary dedication and is kept at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Illinois.  The fourth copy is the Bancroft copy and was provided to George Bancroft after the version that is known as the Bliss copy.  The Bliss copy was written on both sides of a piece of Whitehouse stationary and thus could not be used for lithographic engraving.  Bancroft asked Lincoln for another copy, written only on the front side of the paper, so that he could reproduce it and use it for his fundraising effort.  That copy is owned by Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

The Gettysburg Battlefield and National Park as seen today.

The Gettysburg Battlefield and National Park as seen today.

While the history, and the fact that Lincoln wrote multiple copies, from memory, and they all have slightly different wording, is interesting, the most important fact about the Gettysburg Address is that it was delivered at a time when our great county was in turmoil, divided and fighting over ideologies.  Lincoln’s speech was not only about memorializing the soldiers who died at Gettysburg, but it was also a call to action for those still living, to continue to fight both in battle and in politics, to ensure that America was preserved as one complete nation.

And so today, on the 153rd anniversary of The Gettysburg Address, I ask everyone who reads this to simply Remember.  We are one country, one nation – we must work together daily to preserve our country.

The Gettysburg Address (Bliss version):

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 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 here 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.

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