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GETTYSBURG ADDRESS,

NOVEMBER 19, 1863

What Lincoln said at Gettysburg is fixed like stone in American memory. But Lincoln’s words were far from fixed. Even after he delivered the speech, he continued to revise it, showing close attention to rhythm and nuance. This, the so-called Hay Copy, is probably the second draft. Historians remain unsure about which copy Lincoln actually read from, but the many drafts make it clear the president did not write the speech in haste on the train, as legend stubbornly insists.

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T

oni Morrison

• When a president of the United States

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thought about the graveyard his country had become, and said, “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here,” his simple words were exhilarating in their life-sustaining properties because they refused to encapsulate the reality of 600,000 dead men in a cataclysmic race war. Refusing to monumentalize, disdaining the “final word,” the precise “summing up,” acknowledging their “poor power to add or detract,” his words signal deference to the uncapturability of the life they mourn. It is the deference that moves here, that recognition that language can never live up to life once and for all. Nor should it. Language can never “pin down” slavery, genocide, war. Nor should it yearn for the arrogance to be able to do so. Its force, its felicity, is in its reach toward the ineffable. 䉳

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 have here on a great battle-field of that war. We are come a met to dedicate a portion of it as the final restfor ing place of 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

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ground. The brave men, living and dead, who strugpoor gled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It is

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for us, the living, rather to be dedicated work here to the unfinished which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather

A newly unearthed photograph shows a top-hatted man on horseback—likely Lincoln himself—nearing the speaker’s platform at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863.

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NOVEMBER 19, 1863


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for us to be here dedicated to the great >

us task remaining before — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion that to the cause for which they here gave gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish

Lincoln poses for photographer Alexander Gardner eleven days before delivering the Gettysburg Address.

from the earth.

Bareheaded, President Lincoln takes his place on the speaker’s platform at the new Gettysburg National Cemetery on November 19, 1863. Hours will pass—filled with hymns and orations—before he finally rises to deliver his two minutes of “appropriate remarks.”

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An excerpt from

In Lincoln’s H and: His Original Manusc ripts with Commentary by Distinguished Americans Edited by Harold Holzer and Joshua Wolf Shenk Foreword by James H. Billington Excerpted from In Lincoln’s Hand: His Original Manuscripts with Commentary by Distinguished Americans edited by Harold Holzer and Joshua Wolf Shenk. Foreword by James H. Billington. Copyright © 2008 by Harold Holzer, Joshua Wolf Shenk and James H. Billington. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionNoncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

A free excerpt courtesy of Bantam Dell

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In Lincoln's Hand, Gettysburg Address