In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Museum and Foundation challenged people from all walks of life to write 272 words on Lincoln, the Address, or another cause that stirred their passions. If Mr. Lincoln had been able to take part, his submission might have looked something like this. As imagined by Bob Willard, Oxnard, California
Abraham Lincoln wrote out a copy of the Gettysburg Address at the request of Edward Everett, the principal speaker at the November 19, 1863 dedication of the cemetery in Gettysburg. This version is now at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Il. It contains 272 words.
Abraham Lincoln’s Imagined 272 Words
The Founders’ 272 Words
Two-seventy-two, eh? That’s the number of words that are in the copy of my Gettysburg speech I wrote out for Edward Everett. We both spoke at the dedication of the cemetery there – he, for two hours; I, two minutes.
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
I never made it a practice to count the words I write. I just try to write words that count. “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.” I said that in Independence Hall on Washington’s birthday in 1861 just before I was to raise a flag there. I took off my coat before raising that flag, but someone, perhaps noticing the photographer nearby, urged me to put it back on. Before listing the “abuses and usurpations” by the British monarch, the Declaration of Independence puts forth two great revolutionary ideas – that all people are equal with natural rights, and that government derives its power from the consent of the governed. The Civil War was fought to preserve both ideas. If we had failed, not only would millions of bondsmen and their children continue to be subjugated by other men, but the idea of selfgovernment might have been extinguished. What I called “the last best hope of earth” might no longer inspire all nations. Four score and seven years before I spoke at Gettysburg, the Founders had written words that count. From their opening “When in the course of human events” to their concluding “new guards for their future security,” their words inspired my own words: “new birth of freedom” and “government of…, by… and for the people.” Their 272 words.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments longestablished should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Bob Willard, who imagined Mr. Lincoln’s 272 words after noticing the coincidental 272 words of the Founders, is a Lincoln enthusiast of more than half a century. He is active with a number of Lincoln organizations: Abraham Lincoln Association (board member and former vice president), Abraham Lincoln Institute (board member and former president), Lincoln Forum (life member and advisor), and Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia (life member and former treasurer). In 2005, he traveled 1,000 miles, including nearly 200 miles on foot, from Lincoln’s birthplace to his tomb, visiting major Lincoln sites in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.
The heart of the Declaration of Independence, not including the list of “abuses and usurpations” of King George III, contains the guiding principles – equality and self-government – under which the United States was established. It contains the same number of words as the Gettysburg Address.
Lincoln's 272 words at Gettysburg are among the most famous words ever written. It turns out the Founders wrote 272 equally important words.