4/1/09 - the gettysburg address

In today's excerpt - the authorship of the Gettysburg Address. It has long been known that Abraham Lincoln regularly solicited input into the drafts of his speeches. This led to such results as the change in the ending of the First Inaugural Address to a more conciliatory tone—and the suggestion by Secretary of State William Seward to include an allusion to angels which was then transformed by Lincoln into "the better angels of our nature." However recently discovered correspondence suggests that the assistance Lincoln received in speechwriting was perhaps more systematic and pervasive:

"One of the more cherished Lincoln myths tells how he drafted his Gettysburg Address during the journey to the dedication and delivered the speech from hand-written notes recopied on hotel stationery. Nothing could be further removed from what actually transpired. Lincoln was a careful writer who regularly involved those around him -- including cabinet members -- in reviewing his drafts weeks or even months in advance of the actual event. In the case of the Gettysburg speech Lincoln was fully aware of the symbolic opportunity of the occasion and the need for rhetoric to help shore up the always crumbling resolve of the North. ...

"A recently discovered cache of correspondence from the estate of J.W. Fell (1822-1881) a state legislator from Annapolis Maryland reveals 73 letters between the Lincoln and Fell almost all of which involved detailed suggestions and revisions regarding his speeches including the Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses. The only previously known correspondence between the two involved three letters relating almost entirely to the politics surrounding Maryland's decision to remain in the Union. ...

"Fell's strongest admonition regarding the Gettysburg draft was that Lincoln strike a more modest overall tone advocating that he change the language in an early draft from 'The world will long remember ...' to 'The world will little note nor long remember what we say here ... ' arguing to Lincoln that 'modesty assumed in this speech will ensure its immortality.' Fell unsuccessfully suggested that Lincoln strike the language 'It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do so' intimating that the sentence was 'superfluous.' ...

"There is at least some indication that the first draft of the Gettysburg speech came from Fell. In a letter to Fell dated July 17, 1863, Lincoln writes, 'It would please me greatly if you would again supply some initial thoughts regarding a speech I am planning for this fall. I shall discuss this with you further upon your arrival next month' though this could have referred to any number of speeches delivered during this period."

APRIL FOOLS! And a heartfelt thanks for your continued interest in Delanceyplace.


Bernard N. Douglas and Paolo S. Frils


Lincoln's Prose Reconsidered


Simon & Schuster


Copyright 2009 by Bernard N. Douglas and Paolo S. Frils


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