By HELEN DALRYMPLE
For the first time since 1973, the original "first draft" of the Gettysburg Address was exhibited at the Library of Congress for just three days over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend in January.
Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), speaking at an opening reception for Members of Congress and other guests Thursday evening, said: "As we are instructed by this display, let us not forget that many today in this nation and across the world are denied freedoms -- those living in poverty, those without voting rights, and those fighting for their very lives in areas of violence and war. For any citizen today who lacks the basic rights of freedom, the great task which remained before Lincoln at Gettysburg remains before us today." Beginning on Friday, and continuing through Saturday and Monday, when Madison Hall remained open just for the Gettysburg Address exhibition, visitors streamed into the building for the chance to see the document. Some waited as long as two hours to reach the exhibition case, where they carefully read through the familiar words that begin "Four score and seven years ago..."
Shirley Loo, Specialist in Information Control and Automation Systems, Library Services Division, Congressional Research Service, and one of the last people to go through the exhibition before it closed Monday evening, summed up the feelings she had as she looked at the Gettysburg Address: "It was marvelous seeing something that Lincoln actually handled...it made history come alive in a way that it doesn't just reading about it in a history book. It was worth standing in line to see it, and I hope the Library will show it again."
And the media came as well. The "Today Show" broadcast a live interview with Dr. Billington, Librarian of Congress, from Madison Hall on Friday morning when the exhibition opened; and several local television crews and photographers came to shoot the exhibition and the crowds of people who turned out to see it throughout the three-day period.
On Monday afternoon, the King holiday, actor/educator James Getty from Gettysburg, Pa., lent another dimension to the exhibition. He portrayed Abraham Lincoln for the crowds in Madison Hall, discussing why he decided to go to Gettysburg to dedicate the battlefield on Nov. 19, 1863, and concluding each historical performance with a recitation of the Gettysburg Address.
"President Lincoln" also visited with those standing outside the building and entertained the folks at the end of the very long line with one portrayal just for them.
So many people came to see the exhibition that the Library delayed the closing of Madison Hall for an hour on Saturday and Monday to ensure that every visitor would be able to see the document.
The exhibition was organized in cooperation with the National Archives, which displayed another landmark Lincoln document, the Emancipation Proclamation, the same weekend, Jan. 12-19.
Lincoln's words, written clearly on two pieces of paper in his own hand, the first in ink on "Executive Mansion" stationery and the second on a fragile piece of foolscap in pencil, were placed in a new oxygen-free container and then exhibited in the temperature and humidity-controlled Mainz Bible case in Madison Hall.
From Jan. 17-19 a just-completed high quality facsimile, prepared at the Library's request by Black Box Collotype in Chicago, replaced the original.
Also on exhibition were the letter written by Judge David Wills asking President Lincoln to speak at the dedication of a cemetery for the Union dead at the Gettysburg battlefield, as well as a personal note asking him to stay in his Gettysburg home during his visit, and the only known photograph of Lincoln at the Gettysburg dedication, printed from a glass negative belonging to the National Archives.
Lincoln accepted the invitation from Judge Wills, probably viewing it as an appropriate time to honor all those who had given their lives in the Civil War. He may also have seen the dedication as an opportunity to reveal his evolving thinking about the War, as a fight not only to save the Union, but also to establish freedom and equality for all under the law. These ideas are central to the speech he gave at Gettysburg which, despite its brevity, has become one of the most memorable of all time.
Of the five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address, the Library of Congress has two. President Lincoln gave one of these to each of his two private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. The copy on exhibit, which belonged to Nicolay, is often called the "first draft" because it is believed to be the earliest copy that exists.
Considerable scholarly debate continues about whether the Nicolay copy is the "reading" copy. In 1894 Nicolay wrote that Lincoln had brought with him the first part of the speech, written in ink on Executive Mansion stationery, and that he had written the second page in pencil on lined paper before the dedication on November 19, 1863.
Matching folds are still evident on the two pages of the Nicolay draft, suggesting it could be the copy that eyewitnesses say Lincoln took from his coat pocket and read at the ceremony.
However, one of the arguments supporting the contrary theory that the delivery text has been lost is that some of the words and phrases of the Nicolay copy do not match contemporary accounts. The words "under God," for example, are missing from the phrase "that this nation [under God] shall have a new birth of freedom...." In order for the Nicolay draft to have been the reading copy, Lincoln would have had to depart uncharacteristically from his written text in several instances.
This copy of the Gettysburg Address remained in John Nicolay's possession until his death in 1901, when it passed to his friend and colleague John Hay.
The "second draft," probably made by Lincoln shortly after his return to Washington from Gettysburg, was given to 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 into 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.
The other three copies of the Address were written by Lincoln for charitable purposes well after the dedication. The copy for Edward Everett, the orator who spoke at Gettysburg for two hours prior to Lincoln, is at the Illinois State Historical Library at Springfield; the Bancroft copy, requested by historian George Bancroft, is at Cornell University; the Bliss copy named for Colonel Alexander Bliss, Bancroft's stepson, is now in the Lincoln Room of the White House.
The Bliss copy was used in the publication of a volume of facsimiles, Autograph Leaves of Our Country's Authors, (Baltimore, 1864) and received wide circulation at the time. Since it represents Lincoln's last-known revision of the Gettysburg Address, it has become accepted as the standard text. The Bliss copy is the only one dated and signed by Abraham Lincoln.
Modern Technology Employed To Store the Original Document
In order to assure the long-term preservation of the two drafts of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in the Library's collections, the Preservation Directorate commissioned Dr. Nathan Stolow to design and manufacture two state-of-the-art environmental containers, one for each document.
In addition, the Library has constructed a low-temperature vault where these containers and other "Top Treasures" of the Library are being permanently stored.
The containers are constructed of heavy-gauge stainless steel inner supports and two outer frames joined with neoprene gaskets and bolts, which allow access and viewing from both sides of the container. The container is filled with low-moisture argon gas which has entirely purged the oxygen, virtually eliminating the risk of deterioration from oxidation, including photo-oxidation.
The Gettysburg Address is suspended in the container, without adhesive support, by tetex (TM) sandwiched between window mats. Quarter-inch plexiglass on both sides filter out ultraviolet light.
These preventive measures preclude invasive conservation of the two originals and ensure their longest possible survival. Thus, future generations may enjoy and study the Library's two copies of the Gettysburg Address in a state as close as possible to that of the memorable days on which they were written.
Helen Dalrymple is a Senior Public Affairs Specialist in the Public Affairs Office.