Shortly after Everett’s well-received remarks, Lincoln spoke for but a few minutes. With a “few appropriate remarks”, he was able to summarize the war in just ten sentences.
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. 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. 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.
|“||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 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 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.
In Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills notes the parallels between Lincoln’s speech and Pericles’s Funeral Oration during the Peloponnesian War as described by Thucydides. (James McPherson notes this connection in his review of Wills’s book. Gore Vidal also draws attention to this link in a BBC documentary about oration.) Pericles’ speech, like Lincoln’s, begins with an acknowledgment of revered predecessors: “I shall begin with our ancestors: it is both just and proper that they should have the honour of the first mention on an occasion like the present”; then praises the uniqueness of the State’s commitment to democracy: “If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences”; honors the sacrifice of the slain, “Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour, but met danger face to face”; and exhorts the living to continue the struggle: “You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may have a happier issue.” In contrast, writer Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker, notes that while Everett’s Oration was explicitly neoclassical, referring directly to Marathon and Pericles, “Lincoln’s rhetoric is, instead, deliberately Biblical. (It is difficult to find a single obviously classical reference in all of his speeches.) Lincoln had mastered the sound of the King James Bible so completely that he could recast abstract issues of constitutional law in Biblical terms, making the proposition that Texas and New Hampshire should be forever bound by a single post office sound like something right out of Genesis.”
Detail of Elihu Vedder‘s mural Government (1896), in the Library of Congress. The title figure bears a tablet inscribed with Lincoln’s famous phrase.
Several theories have been advanced by Lincoln scholars to explain the provenance of Lincoln’s famous phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” In a discussion “A more probable origin of a famous Lincoln phrase,” in The American Monthly Review of Reviews, Albert Shaw credits a correspondent with pointing out the writings of William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner, who wrote in the 1888 work Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of A Great Life that he had brought to Lincoln some of the sermons of abolitionist minister Theodore Parker, of Massachusetts, and that Lincoln was moved by Parker’s use of this idea:
I brought with me additional sermons and lectures of Theodore Parker, who was warm in his commendation of Lincoln. One of these was a lecture on ‘The Effect of Slavery on the American People’…which I gave to Lincoln, who read and returned it. He liked especially the following expression, which he marked with a pencil, and which he in substance afterwards used in his Gettysburg Address: ‘Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.’
Craig R. Smith, in “Criticism of Political Rhetoric and Disciplinary Integrity”, suggested Lincoln’s view of the government as expressed in the Gettysburg Address was influenced by the noted speech of Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, the “Second Reply to Hayne”, in which Webster famously thundered “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” Specifically, in this January 26, 1830 speech before the United States Senate, Webster described the federal government as: “made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people,” foreshadowing Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Webster also noted, “This government, Sir, is the independent offspring of the popular will. It is not the creature of State legislatures; nay, more, if the whole truth must be told, the people brought it into existence, established it, and have hitherto supported it, for the very purpose, amongst others, of imposing certain salutary restraints on State sovereignties.”
Wills observed Lincoln’s usage of the imagery of birth, life, and death in reference to a nation “brought forth,” “conceived,” and that shall not “perish.” Others, including Allen C. Guelzo, the director of Civil War Era studies at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, suggested that Lincoln’s formulation “four score and seven” was an allusion to the King James Version of the Bible’s Psalms 90:10, in which man’s lifespan is given as “threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years.”
The five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address are each named for the associated person who received it from Lincoln. Lincoln gave a copy to each of his private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. Both of these drafts were written around the time of his November 19 address, while the other three copies of the address, the Everett, Bancroft, and Bliss copies, were written by Lincoln for charitable purposes well after November 19. In part because Lincoln provided a title and signed and dated the Bliss Copy, it has become the standard text of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
The two earliest drafts of the Address are associated with some confusion and controversy regarding their existence and provenance. Nicolay and Hay were appointed custodians of Lincoln’s papers by Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln in 1874. After appearing in facsimile in an article written by John Nicolay in 1894, the Nicolay Copy was presumably among the papers passed to Hay by Nicolay’s daughter Helen upon Nicolay’s death in 1901. Robert Lincoln began a search for the original copy in 1908, which resulted in the discovery of a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address among the bound papers of John Hay—a copy now known as the “Hay Draft.”
The Hay Draft differed from the version of the Gettysburg Address published by John Nicolay in 1894 in a number of significant ways: it was written on a different type of paper, had a different number of words per line and number of lines, and contained editorial revisions in Lincoln’s hand.
Both the Hay and Nicolay copies of the Address are within the Library of Congress, encased in specially designed, temperature-controlled, sealed containers with argon gas in order to protect the documents from oxidation and continued deterioration.
 Nicolay Copy
The Nicolay Copy[a] is often called the “first draft” because it is believed to be the earliest copy that exists. Scholars disagree over whether the Nicolay Copy was actually the reading copy Lincoln held at Gettysburg on November 19. In an 1894 article that included a facsimile of this copy, Nicolay, who had become the custodian of Lincoln’s papers, wrote that Lincoln had brought to Gettysburg the first part of the speech written in ink on Executive Mansion stationery, and that he had written the second page in pencil on lined paper before the dedication on November 19. Matching folds are still evident on the two pages, suggesting it could be the copy that eyewitnesses say Lincoln took from his coat pocket and read at the ceremony. Others believe that the delivery text has been lost, because some of the words and phrases of the Nicolay Copy do not match contemporary transcriptions of Lincoln’s original speech. The words “under God”, for example, are missing in this copy from the phrase “that this nation (under God) shall have a new birth of freedom…” In order for the Nicolay draft to have been the reading copy, either the contemporary transcriptions were inaccurate, or Lincoln would have had to depart from his written text in several instances. This copy of the Gettysburg Address apparently remained in John Nicolay’s possession until his death in 1901, when it passed to his friend and colleague John Hay. It used to be on display as part of the American Treasures exhibition of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
 Hay Copy
The existence of the Hay Copy[b] was first announced to the public in 1906, after the search for the “original manuscript” of the Address among the papers of John Hay brought it to light. Significantly, it differs somewhat from the manuscript of the Address described by John Hay in his article, and contains numerous omissions and inserts in Lincoln’s own hand, including omissions critical to the basic meaning of the sentence, not simply words that would be added by Lincoln to strengthen or clarify their meaning. In this copy, as in the Nicolay Copy, the words “under God” are not present.
This version has been described as “the most inexplicable” of the drafts and is sometimes referred to as the “second draft.” The “Hay Copy” was made either on the morning of the delivery of the Address, or shortly after Lincoln’s return to Washington. Those that believe that it was completed on the morning of his address point to the fact that it contains certain phrases that are not in the first draft but are in the reports of the address as delivered and in subsequent copies made by Lincoln. It is probable, they conclude, that, as stated in the explanatory note accompanying the original copies of the first and second drafts in the Library of Congress, Lincoln held this second draft when he delivered the address. Lincoln eventually gave this copy to his other personal secretary, John Hay, whose descendants donated both it and the Nicolay Copy to the Library of Congress in 1916.
 Everett Copy
The Everett Copy,[c] also known as the “Everett-Keyes Copy,” was sent by President Lincoln to Edward Everett in early 1864, at Everett’s request. Everett was collecting the speeches at the Gettysburg dedication into one bound volume to sell for the benefit of stricken soldiers at New York’s Sanitary Commission Fair. The draft Lincoln sent became the third autograph copy, and is now in the possession of the Illinois State Historical Library in Springfield, Illinois, where it is currently on display in the Treasures Gallery of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
 Bancroft Copy
The Bancroft Copy[d] of the Gettysburg Address was written out by President Lincoln in February 1864 at the request of George Bancroft, the famed historian and former Secretary of the Navy whose comprehensive ten volume History of the United States later led him to be known as the “father of American History.” Bancroft planned to include this copy in Autograph Leaves of Our Country’s Authors, which he planned to sell at a Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Sanitary Fair in Baltimore. As this fourth copy was written on both sides of the paper, it proved unusable for this purpose, and Bancroft was allowed to keep it. This manuscript is the only one accompanied both by a letter from Lincoln transmitting the manuscript and by the original envelope addressed and franked by Lincoln. This copy remained in the Bancroft family for many years, was sold to various dealers and purchased by Nicholas and Marguerite Lilly Noyes, who donated the manuscript to Cornell in 1949. It is now held by the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in the Carl A. Kroch Library at Cornell University. It is the only one of the five copies to be privately owned.
 Bliss Copy
Discovering that his fourth written copy could not be used, Lincoln then wrote a fifth draft, which was accepted for the purpose requested. The Bliss Copy,[e] named for Colonel Alexander Bliss, Bancroft’s stepson and publisher of Autograph Leaves, is the only draft to which Lincoln affixed his signature. Lincoln is not known to have made any further copies of the Gettysburg Address. Because of the apparent care in its preparation, and in part because Lincoln provided a title and signed and dated this copy, it has become the standard version of the address and the source for most facsimile reproductions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is the version that is inscribed on the South wall of the Lincoln Memorial
This draft is now displayed in the Lincoln Room of the White House, a gift of Oscar B. Cintas, former Cuban Ambassador to the United States. Cintas, a wealthy collector of art and manuscripts, purchased the Bliss Copy at a public auction in 1949 for $54,000 ($497,000 as of 2011), at that time the highest price ever paid for a document at public auction. Cintas’ properties were claimed by the Castro government after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, but Cintas, who died in 1957, willed the Gettysburg Address to the American people, provided it would be kept at the White House, where it was transferred in 1959.
Garry Wills concluded the Bliss Copy “is stylistically preferable to others in one significant way: Lincoln removed ‘here’ from ‘that cause for which they (here) gave…’ The seventh ‘here’ is in all other versions of the speech.” Wills noted the fact that Lincoln “was still making such improvements,” suggesting Lincoln was more concerned with a perfected text than with an ‘original’ one.
Another contemporary source of the text is the Associated Press dispatch, transcribed from the shorthand notes taken by reporter Joseph L. Gilbert. It also differs from the drafted text in a number of minor ways.
 Contemporary sources and reaction
The New York Times article from November 20, 1863, indicates Lincoln’s speech was interrupted five times by applause and was followed by “long continued applause.”
Eyewitness reports vary as to their view of Lincoln’s performance. In 1931, the printed recollections of 87-year-old Mrs. Sarah A. Cooke Myers, who was 19 when she attended the ceremony, suggest a dignified silence followed Lincoln’s speech: “I was close to the President and heard all of the Address, but it seemed short. Then there was an impressive silence like our Menallen Friends Meeting. There was no applause when he stopped speaking.” According to historian Shelby Foote, after Lincoln’s presentation, the applause was delayed, scattered, and “barely polite.” In contrast, Pennsylvania Governor Curtin maintained, “He pronounced that speech in a voice that all the multitude heard. The crowd was hushed into silence because the President stood before them…It was so Impressive! It was the common remark of everybody. Such a speech, as they said it was!” Reinterment of the bodies buried from field graves into the cemetery, which had begun within months of the battle, was less than half complete on the day of the ceremony.
In an oft-repeated legend, Lincoln is said to have turned to his bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon and remarked that his speech, like a bad plow, “won’t scour.” According to Garry Wills, this statement has no basis in fact and largely originates from the unreliable recollections of Lamon. In Garry Wills’s view, “[Lincoln] had done what he wanted to do [at Gettysburg].”
In a letter to Lincoln written the following day, Everett praised the President for his eloquent and concise speech, saying, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Lincoln replied that he was glad to know the speech was not a “total failure”.
Other public reaction to the speech was divided along partisan lines. The next day the Democratic-leaning Chicago Times is reputed to have written, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.” In contrast, the Republican-oriented New York Times was complimentary. The Springfield, Ma. Republican newspaper printed the entire speech, calling it “a perfect gem” that was “deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma.” The Republican predicted that Lincoln’s brief remarks would “repay further study as the model speech”.
 Audio recollections
William R. Rathvon is the only known eyewitness of both Lincoln’s arrival at Gettysburg and the address itself to have left an audio recording of his recollections. One year before his death in 1939, Rathvon’s reminiscences were recorded on February 12, 1938 at the Boston studios of radio station WRUL, including his reading the address, itself, and a 78 rpm record was pressed. The title of the 78 record was “I Heard Lincoln That Day – William R. Rathvon, TR Productions.” A copy wound up at National Public Radio (NPR) during a “Quest for Sound” project in 1999. NPR continues to air them around Lincoln’s birthday.
The only known and confirmed photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg, taken by photographer David Bachrach was identified in the Mathew Brady collection of photographic plates in the National Archives and Records Administration in 1952. While Lincoln’s speech was short and may have precluded multiple pictures of him while speaking, he and the other dignitaries sat for hours during the rest of the program. Given the length of Everett’s speech and the length of time it took for 19th century photographers to get “set up” before taking a picture, it is quite plausible that the photographers were ill prepared for the brevity of Lincoln’s remarks.
In 2006, Civil War enthusiast John Richter was credited with identifying two additional photographs in the Library of Congress collection that potentially show President Lincoln in the procession at Gettysburg.
 Usage of “under God”
The words “under God” do not appear in the Nicolay and Hay drafts but are included in the three later copies (Everett, Bancroft, and Bliss). Accordingly, some skeptics maintain that Lincoln did not utter the words “under God” at Gettysburg. However, at least three reporters telegraphed the text of Lincoln’s speech on the day the Address was given with the words “under God” included. Historian William E. Barton argues that:
Every stenographic report, good, bad and indifferent, says ‘that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom.’ There was no common source from which all the reporters could have obtained those words but from Lincoln’s own lips at the time of delivery. It will not do to say that [Secretary of War] Stanton suggested those words after Lincoln’s return to Washington, for the words were telegraphed by at least three reporters on the afternoon of the delivery.
The reporters present included Joseph Gilbert, from the Associated Press; Charles Hale, from the Boston Advertiser; John R. Young (who later became the Librarian of Congress), from the Philadelphia Press; and reporters from the Cincinnati Commercial, New York Tribune, and New York Times. Charles Hale “had notebook and pencil in hand, [and] took down the slow-spoken words of the President”. “He took down what he declared was the exact language of Lincoln’s address, and his declaration was as good as the oath of a court stenographer. His associates confirmed his testimony, which was received, as it deserved to be at its face value.” The most logical explanation is that Lincoln deviated from his prepared text and inserted the phrase when he spoke.