Editor’s Note: There exist at least five versions of the Gettysburg Address, all of which have slightly different wording. The first is known as the “Nicolay copy,” as it was once owned by Lincoln’s secretary, John Nicolay; this version is the only one which we know was written down by Lincoln prior to his delivering the speech. The second version is the “Hay copy,” so-called because it was given to Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay. It too may have been written down by Lincoln prior to November 19, 1863, though it may alternatively have been composed after the speech. Three later versions (the Everett, Bancroft, and Bliss copies) were transcribed by Lincoln after the event for, respectively, the main speaker at Gettysburg, Edward Everett, the historian George Bancroft, and Union Colonel Alexander Bliss.
Reproduced here is the Everett copy, whose wording is most familiar to Americans today, especially as it—unlike the Nicolay and Hay copies—contains the phrase “under God.” The 1863 Associated Press account of the speech reports that Lincoln uttered this phrase at Gettysburg.
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.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.
We hope you will join us in The Imaginative Conservative community. The Imaginative Conservative is an on-line journal for those who seek the True, the Good and the Beautiful. We address culture, liberal learning, politics, political economy, literature, the arts and the American Republic in the tradition of Russell Kirk, T.S. Eliot, Edmund Burke, Irving Babbitt, Wilhelm Roepke, Robert Nisbet, Richard Weaver, M.E. Bradford, Eric Voegelin, Christopher Dawson, Paul Elmer More and other leaders of Imaginative Conservatism. Some conservatives may look at the state of Western culture and the American Republic and see a huge dark cloud which seems ready to unleash a storm that may well wash away what we most treasure of our inherited ways. Others focus on the silver lining which may be found in the next generation of traditional conservatives who have been inspired by Dr. Kirk and his like. We hope that The Imaginative Conservative answers T.S. Eliot’s call to “redeem the time, redeem the dream.” The Imaginative Conservative offers to our families, our communities, and the Republic, a conservatism of hope, grace, charity, gratitude and prayer.