Of the five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address Essay, 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 shown here, 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 contemporaneous 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 uncharacteristically would have had to depart 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.
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