Delivered on November 19, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, with its famous opening lines of “Four score and seven years ago,” is one of the best-known speeches in American history. But did you know the following facts about the speech?
- The Gettysburg Address was given as part of the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, four months after the bloody battle. Not all the bodies had been buried yet at the time of the dedication, which was attended by about 15,000 people.
- Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the main speaker. Edward Everett, a politician and famous orator, had that honor. While Everett gave a 2-hour, 13,500-word oration, Lincoln’s speech lasted 2 or 3 minutes and was about 270 words long. Afterward, Everett wrote to Lincoln, “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.”
- Lincoln was formally notified he would be speaking only 17 days before the event. Although Lincoln started writing the speech in Washington, he was still fine-tuning it up until the day he gave it.
- Lincoln reported feeling sick the day he gave the Gettysburg Address. As it turned out, he may have had a mild case of smallpox.
- There are no known photographs of Lincoln delivering the speech, perhaps because his speech was so short, the photographers didn’t have time to prepare. In fact, his speech was over before some of the audience even knew it had started.
- There are five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address handwritten by Lincoln. Two of them were written around 19 November, and the other three were written afterward by request. The fifth draft, known as the Bliss copy, is generally accepted as the standard text of the speech since it was signed and dated by Lincoln, even though the copy was written by Lincoln after the speech had been given.
The Gettysburg Address had its admirers and detractors at the time it was given, but it wasn’t necessarily seen as particularly influential during Lincoln’s lifetime. However, the speech was rediscovered and popularized 13 years later during the U.S. 1876 centennial.