November 19th, 2013
03:06 PM ET
6 years ago

Obama stands out from the Gettysburg crowd

Washington (CNN) – While the White House has taken some heat for choosing not to attend an event marking the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address, it's President Barack Obama's recitation of the famed speech that's bringing up a true American controversy: Which of the five versions of the speech is correct?

Obama, a long-time admirer of Lincoln, recorded the speech as part of a project sponsored by PBS. He was one of 57 notable figures - including past Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Sen. Marco Rubio, director Steven Spielberg and CNN's Wolf Blitzer – who recited the speech as part of a national public outreach campaign to encourage people to learn and recite the address in celebration of its 150th anniversary.

The president was the only person to tape a version, known as the 'Nicolay' version, which perhaps most notably is one that does not include "under God" in the second to last sentence. The selection came at the request of the documentarian Ken Burns, who has a team heading up the project. One of the producers told CNN they gave Obama this version to use to highlight that there are multiple versions.

Lesson from Lincoln: Mr. President, you're talking too much

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed the producer's account, saying Tuesday the President "read the version of the address…Ken Burns provided." Carney added that was the Nicolay manuscript of the speech.

The other speakers recited what the Library of Congress calls the "standard text." In that version, the last sentence reads: "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."

The use of "under God" in the Gettysburg Address has an uncertain history. Of the five manuscript copies of the address, three contain the phrase and two do not.

The versions held in the Library of Congress – given by Lincoln to his two private secretaries – do not include the phrase "under God." Those copies, known as the Hay and Nicolay versions, are thought to pre-date the remaining three copies of the text, which Lincoln wrote out for charity well after the November 19, 1863 address. Those later versions all contain the "under God" expression. President Obama read, word for word, the Nicolay version of the speech.

The inscription of the Gettysburg Address at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington contains the words "under God," and contemporary transcriptions of the address by newspaper reporters also include it.

Obama's no-show at Gettysburg event: Snub, or smart?

President George H.W. Bush, former New York Mayor David Dinkins, singers Taylor Swift and Usher were among the celebrities included in a mashup of the speech also posted on the website learntheaddress.org.

The National Park Service will hold a ceremony in Gettysburg on Tuesday to commemorate the address and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will attend. Press Secretary Jay Carney did not respond directly to questions about why the president, who has twice been sworn into office using president Lincoln's Bible and who announced his bid for the presidency in Lincoln's adopted hometown of Springfield, Illinois, was not planning to attend the event.

"Obviously that address and that moment in time is seminal in our history and I think that all Americans across the country will have the opportunity to think about those words and that address," Carney said.

The PBS campaign is inspired by the subject of Burns' upcoming film The Address, about a small school in Vermont where students are encouraged to memorize, practice and recite the address, which the website calls "one of the most important declarations ever made on human equality."

The President penned a tribute to the Gettysburg address on Tuesday. In the hand-written note, Obama describes visiting a room in the White House that Lincoln once used as an office. An original copy of the famous speech is on display in the room.

"I linger on these few words that have helped define our American experiment: 'a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,'" Obama writes.

"Through the lines of weariness etched in his face, we know Lincoln grasped, perhaps more than anyone, the burdens required to give these words meaning."

Obama continues: "He understood as well that our humble efforts, our individual ambitions, are ultimately not what matter; rather, it is through the accumulated toil and sacrifice of ordinary men and women – those like the soldiers who consecrated that battlefield – that this country is built, and freedom preserved. This quintessentially self made man, fierce in his belief in honest work and the striving spirit at the heart of America, believed that it falls to each generation, collectively, to share in that toil and sacrifice."


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. much thunder..little rain

    they dont make presidents like lincoln anymore ...shame

    November 19, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  2. current state of the union

    He's s Muslim, here's your proof, he didn't say God, impeach him immediately! Talk about .an open door to controversy, it's no coincidence that he used that version, the question is whose decision was that really?

    November 19, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  3. Data Driven

    Lemme guess: Obama's a pagan heathen because he dared to read the same speech that Lincoln actually gave on this day 150 years ago.

    CNN, and conservatives in general, bore me to death.

    November 19, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  4. freedom

    He couldn't utter the words "under God" for our country? His hubris is his downfall.

    November 19, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  5. Reggie53

    Obama does not believe in God so that is why he would not say those words. He is definitely hiding his true beliefs. I wonder why???????/

    November 19, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  6. Donna

    Honest Abe. Dishonest Obama. Enough said.

    November 19, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  7. O'drama ya Mama

    current state of the union

    He's s Muslim, here's your proof, he didn't say God, impeach him immediately! Talk about .an open door to controversy, it's no coincidence that he used that version, the question is whose decision was that really?
    November 19, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
    _______________________________________________________________________________________________

    First off Muslims do believe in a God just not the same one you or I do. Secondly, what about that would you consider to be impeachable? I do hope you were just being sarcastic but you cant be too sure these days.

    November 19, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    "He couldn't say under God."
    -----------------
    And, BAM, just like that, another extreme conspiracy theory is born.

    November 19, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  9. The Real Tom Paine

    Honest Abe. Responsible Obama. Head-exploding Donna. Enough said.

    November 19, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  10. The Real Tom Paine

    It would appear as though people still have a problem with anything Obama does. Out of the 5 versions of the speech, " under God" appears in 3, while 2 does not. This was done to highlight the fact that there are multiple versions of the speech. Obama read one of those versions. This has nothing to do with hubris, its about following the request of the director to highlight a historical fact. Sorry freedom, but it appears as though you did not read ( again) what was sitting right in front of you.

    November 19, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  11. current state of the union

    No disappointment here, rwnj's right on time, your predictably pathetic

    November 19, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  12. O'drama ya Mama

    Donna

    Honest Abe. Dishonest Obama. Enough said.
    November 19, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
    _______________________________________________________________________________________________

    Hey Donna,

    Here is a few things I think you should know about the real Abe Lincoln:

    Lincoln is responsible for declaring war without the consent of Congress. Something you have accused Obama of doing.

    Lincoln made West Virgina a State by separating Virgina into two. All by himself, without Congress consent.

    Lincoln denied the freedom of speech in the Valandeham Imprisonment, which was a violation of the First Amendment.

    In Springfield, Ill., on July 17, 1858, Lincoln said, "What I would most desire would be the separation of the white and black races."

    Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley on Aug. 22, 1862: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it"

    The more you know...

    November 19, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  13. current state of the union

    Yes mama, sarcasm, but sadly your right, there is no such thing as to ridiculous to print, the right is a tough gig to carry, exhausted just trying to read their garbage, how do they navigate life with that mentality?

    November 19, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  14. Mike Wallace

    Obama reads the manuscript of the speech that many believe was the actual one given by Lincoln and does so at the instruction of the Director -> Conservatives go crazy. Is anyone really surprised by the level of ignorance and cognitive dissonance on full display by the Right?

    November 19, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  15. The Real Tom Paine

    -Donna

    Honest Abe. Dishonest Obama. Enough said.
    ************
    Ever read the contemporary criticism of Lincoln? Rather like the garbage you hurl at Obama, and ultimately, like his critics, it will be forgotten.

    November 19, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  16. Donna

    The Real Tom Paine
    Honest Abe. Responsible Obama. Head-exploding Donna. Enough said.
    --

    Imitation is the highest form of flattery! Or a sure sign the imitator doesn't have a mind of his own.

    November 19, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  17. Bessy

    Mike Wallace

    Obama reads the manuscript of the speech that many believe was the actual one given by Lincoln and does so at the instruction of the Director -> Conservatives go crazy. Is anyone really surprised by the level of ignorance and cognitive dissonance on full display by the Right?
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________
    Yep ! They just have to have something new to complain about every day. It is a shame that there are so many small minded people in this country that can't see the truth as to why they think the way they do.

    November 19, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  18. The Real Tom Paine

    Donna

    The Real Tom Paine
    Honest Abe. Responsible Obama. Head-exploding Donna. Enough said.
    -

    Imitation is the highest form of flattery! Or a sure sign the imitator doesn't have a mind of his own.
    **************
    If it serves to demonstrate that you have no original thoughts of your own by parodying you, no problem. I consider it a public service.

    November 19, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  19. loving it

    The Real Tom Paine

    Honest Abe. Responsible Obama. Head-exploding Donna. Enough said.

    And well said. Donna is going to love the next three years, not to mention the eight following with another Democratic president.

    November 19, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  20. current state of the union

    Hate machine is firing on all cylinders I see, is there anything you don't hate about someone not like you

    November 19, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  21. Seth A Drekin

    "much thunder..little rain
    they dont make presidents like lincoln anymore ...shame"

    You mean Presidents who will go as far as it takes to create a lasting change that will ultimately benefit our country as a whole. Presidents who, in the face of unprecedented obstruction, would fight through mud slinging, slander and outright lies to do what they know is the right thing to do? Presidents who will not allow a Radical Minority, who hold a disproportionate amount of power in the nations government, bring the entire country to the brink of collapse?

    I do believe there are still Presidents like that. Great Leaders are never recognized by those who oppose them. Lincoln was not a popular president. Not in the way he is now. Politics does not allow for Presidents to be popular.

    November 19, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  22. A True Conservative

    Three copies have it, two do not......3 to 2......guess which one won? But that doesn't matter when it doesn't go your way, huh? Only when it does.......

    November 19, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  23. michael

    As for the gov im am sure they would rather it say that man needs not god but man unto him self is god.

    November 19, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  24. Grumpy2012

    Obama "stands out" from the crowd? What did he do, vote "Present"?

    Of course he didn't know it was Nicolay's version, the one version missing "under God".
    He was just handed the script and he read it.

    November 19, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  25. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    The original draft of the speech did not include "Under God." Pres. Obama sure knows how to push you conservatives buttons. It's hilarious listening to the fake outrage.

    November 19, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
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