Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Taking God Out of the Gettysburg Address

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy recently published a handy, compact booklet containing three significant pieces of American history: The Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the Constitution of the United States. I have a similar small booklet from the Heritage Foundation that contains the Declaration and Constitution, and I like being able to carry it with me so easily.

However, the booklet from the Constitution Society is not one I would choose to carry. Is that because I don't like the Gettysburg Address? Hardly! It is for the opposite reason, that I like and respect the Gettysburg Address as it was given by Lincoln. The booklet contains a somewhat different version.

There exist several drafts of the address, which is not surprising. Most speeches go through revisions before they are given. During that process they can be filled up to finish incomplete thoughts, changed to correct wording that was not effective or could be misleading, etc. One substantial difference between the draft published in this booklet and the final version that Lincoln gave (which was carefully transcribed by three independent news agencies as Lincoln was speaking) is that Lincoln used the words "under God" in his speech and in his final draft. That final draft is the one on display at the White House and is the only draft that Lincoln signed.

Of the five extant drafts, two do not contain "under God" and three do. All of the transcriptions of the actual spoken words contain "under God." So why would the Constitution Society choose a version that did not have those words? You can draw you own conclusions; I certainly have.

Read more detail below:

Full text as found in the White House:

Transcription of the Gettysburg Address

Address delivered at the dedication of the Cemetery at Gettysburg.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on 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 on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for 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 ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. 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.

Abraham Lincoln.

November 19, 1863.

No comments: