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Why You Should Not Be Long-Winded

From today’s Writer’s Almanac:

It was on this day in 1863 that Abraham Lincoln got up in front of about 15,000 people and delivered the Gettysburg Address, which begins, “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.”

It was a foggy, cold morning on this day in 1863. Lincoln arrived at the new national cemetery in Gettysburg at about 10 a.m. Around noon, the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours. When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of 10 sentences, a total of 272 words. The audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn’t even realize he had spoken.

There are five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address. The earliest version is the copy he gave to his private secretary, John Nicolay, and it’s thought to be the version he used for the oration at Gettysburg. It is two pages long — the first page is in ink on official Executive Mansion stationary, and the second is in pencil on lined paper. This version doesn’t contain the words “under God” in the phrase “this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom.”

Lincoln made one other copy at the time, which he gave to his other private secretary, John Hay, and then he wrote out three more copies in later years — one for a benefit book and two for the historian and former statesman George Bancroft. Lincoln had to copy out two because the first one was written out incorrectly on both sides of the paper and so wouldn’t go in Bancroft’s book. The second copy for Bancroft is the only one that Lincoln signed his name to. It’s the copy that has been reproduced on a widespread basis in books and photographs and leaflets, and it is considered the standard version of the speech.



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