Lincoln and His Five Versions of the Gettysburg Address


Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address: what’s true, what’s false

The book Long Remembered is filled with copies of maps, telegrams, letters and photographs of Lincoln, all from the collection of Civil War documents at the Library of Congress.

The book also features the fascinating narratives of four Lincoln scholars: Douglas L. Wilson, John R. Sellers, Lloyd A. Dunlap, and David C. Mearns. They tell the true tale—as much as is known, at least—of when Lincoln wrote his five versions of the Gettysburg Address, and where, and how.

As John Sellers, the former Lincoln Curator at the Library of Congress, observes,

“What doubtless is the most famous speech ever given on American soil is filled with riddles….”

Here’s a quiz to see how well you know the facts about this famous American speech.

=correct answer   = incorrect answer



1. Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope, on the train to Gettysburg.

2. One of the five versions that Lincoln hand-wrote ended up in Cuba.

3. Lincoln wrote each version of the Gettysburg Address in pen and signed each one.

4. Lincoln was the lead speaker at the consecration of the Gettysburg burial site on November 19, 1863.

5. Cornell University is the only academic institution to house a copy of the Gettysburg Address.




A map of Gettysburg reproduced in Long Remembered


  1. False. This may be the most harmful myth surrounding the Gettysburg Address, as it suggests Lincoln’s speeches were spur of the moment. Even the astute Harriet Beecher Stowe fell for this one, In 1868 Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, wrote that Lincoln “wrote it in a few moments, while on the way to the celebration, on being told that he would be expected to make some remarks.”
    Lincoln, as Douglas L. Wilson and the other scholars writing in Long Remembered make clear, put great thought and care into what he wrote. And as most writers will tell you, to gain both brevity and brilliance in a speech is a time-consuming task.

  2. True. One of the five versions of the Gettysburg Address that Lincoln hand-wrote did indeed end up in Cuba—for a time. It is Lincoln’s fifth version, known as the Bliss copy. In the late 1940s, a Cuban businessman purchased the Bliss copy. Fortunately, in his will, he indicated that this copy of the Gettysburg Address should reside in the United States. This version of President Lincoln’s speech now resides in, appropriately, the Lincoln Room of the White House.

  3. False. Lincoln wrote one page of what is probably his first draft in pencil. He signed only one of the five versions, using his full name rather than his customary “A. Lincoln.” In Long Remembered are the details of which version he signed, and why.

  4. False. As astounding as it seems to us today, the President of the United States was not the main speaker. Edward Everett, a diplomat who was the undisputed orator of his day, delivered the Oration.

    Lincoln was invited to come and, in what has to be one of the most classic unintentional understatements ever, deliver “a few appropriate remarks.” (The full letter from the author of that letter, who was the ceremony’s planner, is reproduced and transcribed in the Long Remembered book.) Two days after the dedication at Gettysburg, Edward Everett wrote Lincoln a somewhat abashed letter, saying that:

    “I should be glad, if I…came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

    That letter in its entirety, plus Lincoln’s reply to it, are among the facsimiles in the book Long Remembered. (All the facsimile letters and telegrams in Long Remembered are transcribed for the reader.)

  5. True. Cornell was given the copy of the Gettysburg Address by Mrs. Nicholas H. Noyes of Indianapolis, in 1949. The other four known copies are in the White House; The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois; and the Library of Congress, which has two copies, in Washington, D.C.


What did Lincoln really say at Gettysburg?

Why is it so hard for history to know the word-for-word delivery of such a short speech? And why did Lincoln make it so short?


Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address

Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address: what’s true, what’s false

Test your knowledge of facts and myths about the five versions of the Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln, Gettysburg, and the Library of Congress

Lincoln, Gettysburg, and the Library of Congress

Bringing the legacy alive

Long Remembered: discover the book

Long Remembered: discover the book

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