November 19th, 2013
03:06 PM ET
9 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.

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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

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. The Real Tom Paine

    @ Odrama ya Mama,

    I can see you've attempted to rewrite history to make Lincoln out to be someoen who circumvented the Constitution. A few things:

    A declaration of War is not needed in a Civil War, since it implies recognition: why recognise traitors as something were not?

    West Virginia was under Union control from the beginning of the war, and its residents petitioned for statehood. It was a war aim, plain and simple, and the Congress did approve it in 1863. How can a seceeding state keep a portion from seceeding? What would the rationale be?

    Valadingham was guilty of sedition and eventually expelled from Union control. As head of the Copperheads, he actively obstructed the government when it tried to supress a rebellion. We send people to Gitmo for less.

    Lincoln started the war as a moderate on slavery: Emancipation was not a war aim until 1863, and Lincoln resisted it because he knew the potential problems if he made emancipation a war aim without success on the battlefield.

    Learn some history, and put it in its proper context, willya?

    November 19, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  2. Mike Wallace

    "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......."

    Your inability to utilize logic is truly shocking.

    November 19, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    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.......
    When it comes to history, FACTS MATTER!!! The original draft did not include that phrase. Why do you have your panties in a bunch? Because he's reciting the ORIGINAL draft? I'd like to read the ORIGINAL Bible rather than the King James Version. Your argument is futile.

    November 19, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  4. The Real Tom Paine

    -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.......
    Don't you have climate change data to fake before the day is out?

    November 19, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  5. papanez

    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???????/
    Reggie53: If the president doesn't believe in God as you apparently believe, then when he says at the end of all of his speeches, "God bless America" are those words being dubbed in by an impressionist off-camera?
    Please, if you truly are ignorant don't vote anymore and please take up residence under a rock. Thank you.

    November 19, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
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