The Formal Invitation

Judge David Wills’s letter to Abraham Lincoln is the official invitation to the president to participate in the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Wills carefully explained to Lincoln that the proposed cemetery was planned and financed by states having soldiers buried at Gettysburg. Wills, who had conceived the idea of a national cemetery and had organized the dedication, made it equally clear to the president that he would have only a small part in the ceremonies. Although there is some evidence Lincoln expected Wills’s letter, its late date makes the author appear presumptuous, especially when one realizes that Edward Everett, the principal speaker for the occasion, received his invitation in September.

Judge David Wills to Abraham Lincoln, November 2, 1863. Manuscript letter. Page 2 - Page 3. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress Digital ID # al0181p1

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A Personal Note

The late date of Judge David Wills’s invitation, combined with the small role that Lincoln was asked to play in the ceremonies, has led many people to conclude that Wills was simply fulfilling a political or ritual duty in inviting the president to Gettysburg. Some have gone so far as to argue that Wills neither expected nor wanted the president to accept his invitation. The one-page enclosure of the same date negates that argument. Not only did Wills expect the president in Gettysburg, he urged him to stay at his own home.

Judge David Wills to Abraham Lincoln, November 2, 1863. Page 2. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress Digital ID # uc009214

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Lincoln with Secretaries Hay and Nicolay

Abraham Lincoln employed several secretaries over the course of his administration; however, none proved more deserving of his trust and affection than the two men shown here. John Nicolay, seated, was Lincoln’s principal secretary, but the youthful John Hay proved more adept in the art of politics, a fact that did not escape President Lincoln. On November 8, 1863, the week before the two secretaries would accompany the president to Gettysburg, the trio sat for a portrait in Alexander Gardner’s Washington photographic studio.

Alexander Gardner. (left to right) John G. Nicolay, Abraham Lincoln, John M. Hay, November 8, 1863. Albumen print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress Digital ID # ppmsca-19421

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Lincoln on the Platform

Lincoln is pictured in the center of the platform, hatless with his bodyguard, Ward Lamon, and Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s private secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, orator Edward Everett, and Gettysburg attorney and organizer David Wills may be among those near the president.

Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, November 19, 1863. Enlargement from glass plate negative. Brady-Handy Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress Digital ID # cwpb-07639

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Gettysburg Address - “Nicolay Copy”

This document represents the earliest known of the five drafts of what may be the most famous American speech. Delivered by President Abraham Lincoln in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, at the dedication of a memorial cemetery on November 19, 1863, it is now familiarly known as the “Gettysburg Address.” Drawing inspiration from his favorite historical document, the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln equated the catastrophic suffering caused by the Civil War with the efforts of the American people to live up to “the proposition that ’all men are created equal.’” This document is presumed to be the only working, or pre-delivery, draft and is commonly identified as the Nicolay Copy because it was once owned by John George Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary. The first page is on White House (then Executive Mansion) stationery, lending strong support to the theory that it was drafted in Washington, D.C. But the second page is on what has been loosely described as foolscap, suggesting that Lincoln was not fully satisfied with the final paragraph of the Address and rewrote that passage in Gettysburg, on November 19, while staying at the home of Judge David Wills.

Abraham Lincoln. “Nicolay Copy” of the Gettysburg Address, 1863. Holograph manuscript. Page 2. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress Digital ID# al0186p1

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Gettysburg Address - “Hay Draft”

The second draft of the Gettysburg Address, probably made by Lincoln shortly after his return to Washington from Gettysburg, was given to his secretary John Hay, whose descendants donated both it and the Nicolay copy to the Library of Congress in 1916. There are numerous variations in words and punctuation between these two drafts. Because these variations provide clues to Lincoln’s thinking and because these two drafts are the most closely tied to November 19, they continue to be consulted by scholars of the period.

Abraham Lincoln. “Hay Draft” of the Gettysburg Address, 1863. Manuscript. Page 2. John Hay Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress Digital ID # cw0127p1

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The Crowds at Gettysburg

In these images of the crowds at the dedication ceremony at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, a Library of Congress patron has identified the sixteenth president in both images taken by Alexander Gardner on November 19, 1863. Under extreme magnification a figure believed to be Lincoln, white-gloved in his trademark stovepipe hat, appears in a military procession.

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A Gracious Compliment

Edward Everett was quick to grasp what Lincoln accomplished at Gettysburg. The day after the ceremony, Everett wrote Lincoln a note complimenting the president on the “eloquent simplicity & appropriateness” of his remarks and stating, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Unfortunately, Lincoln had heard only the polite applause commonly awarded men of his station, whatever the occasion, which stands in marked contrast to the crescendo of praise that sounded across the nation after the American people had time to read and reflect on the Address.

Edward Everett to Abraham Lincoln, [November 20, 1863]. Manuscript letter. Page 2. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress Digital ID # al0181_01p1-al0181_01p2

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The Battlefield and Cemetery

The Battle of Gettysburg, July 1 to July 3, 1863, was one of the major battles of the Civil War. This bird’s-eye view of the battlefield, created from data collected several days after the conflict, was researched and drawn by New York engraver John B. Bachelder. It shows the town, the surrounding twenty-five miles of terrain, the topography of the battlefield, troop positions, and, at the bottom center of the sheet, a plan of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his celebrated Gettysburg Address.

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