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Lincoln Gettysburg address

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.

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3 replies to this post
  1. “Let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination—”that government of the people, by the people, for the people,” should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. What was the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the States, i.e., of the people of the States? The Confederates went into battle free; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and veto of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that veto was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely more liberty, in the political sense, than so many convicts in the penitentiary.”– Mencken

  2. I am reading just now Russell Kirk’s Roots of American Order. He addresses the intersection of Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome and their contributions to our American Constitution. In it as well he writes of Natural Law and its origins from these governments. What struck me most was his explanation of revolution as it apparently goes against Natural Law in upsetting tradition and practice. In the case of Cromwell’s writing, tradition arose from unnatural practices, unhappy traditions of slavery. These were reset in “righteous order” or eunomia as the Greek statesman and poet would call it and the able Cicero would later acknowledge the source of such order/law–from God alone. The Civil War was fought to save a nation and free slaves, not states rights!

  3. The so-called and inaccurately named “Civil War” was at root-bottom fought for the same reason that virtually all wars have been waged in history: for money, resources and imperialistic power. The issue of slavery was undoubtedly the most visibly divisive of the issues that divided North and South, however, I deeply disagree with the contention that it was “the primary cause” for that War. The Deep South undoubtedly seceded from the Union primarily over the fear of what course of action a future sectional republican party administration would launch against the institution of slavery; however the question of what caused the War itself is a far more complex and compound phenomenon (both economic and legal/constitutional) than simply the institution of slavery, which at one time existed throughout the colonies, both North and South.

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