Abraham Lincoln is widely considered one of the best presidents ever to lead the United States. To have been at the helm of the ship of state through one of its darkest eras surely earns him such recognition. But it is known that in his own time Lincoln was far less popular, in both the North and the South, than is the man as we know him today. Many people point to the almost impossibly charged political climate of the times, but TTLA has unearthed evidence which may further explain his contemporary criticism.
Recently, Edda Spinachbinder, a researcher at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Presidential Museum in Harrowgate, Tennessee, was making her way through some of the dustiest and most unused corners of this prestigious site, when she came across a rather large envelope which bore the label “That Gettysburg Thing.” What she found when she opened the package shook her understanding of the 16th president to the core.
“What I found,” said Ms. Spinachbinder, “was a series of early drafts of the world famous Gettysburg Address, many of which are very different from the speech as we know it today.”
She pulled out one of the sheets and read from it, indicating that it may be the first draft. The text was as follows:
“Whoa, what a lot of dead people there are here! The last time I was around this many stiffs I was addressing a joint session of congress!”
“He also appears to have written in his own rim-shots, as after entries such as that he has written, ‘bada-boom!’” said Spinachbinder. She also found evidence that Lincoln planned to deal with the care for the war-wounded at the end of the conflict in a later draft which read:
“I see a lot of wounded veterans in the crowd today, and I’m sure you’re concerned about how your government will care for you in light of the service you have rendered to your nation. I’m sure you’ll be making claims for veterans rights, but frankly I don’t think you have a leg to stand on! HA! Amputation joke! Ahh, what’s the matter Stumpy? Too Soon? Bada-boom!”
There have arisen questions as to the President’s mental status during the composition of the address, as history tells us. During the train trip from Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg on November 18, Lincoln remarked to John Hay that he felt weak. On the morning of November 19, Lincoln mentioned to John Nicolay that he was dizzy. Finally he admitted to Montgomery Blair, “Monty, I’m shit-faced. There’s no telling how this speech might go.”
Lincoln won no good grace from the locals either, as draft three indicates:
“It’s great to be back in Pennsylvania. Wonderful freakin’ state. I spent a month here one afternoon. I’m thinking of turning this whole stinking cesspool into a national cemetery. It would be an improvement.”
But as the drafts went on, the speech began to start making inroads into more recognizable formats.
- For example, draft seven’s opening sentence, “I scored four times on the train ride here,” became “Four score and seven years ago.”
- The statement “I’m so drunk, I doubt I’ll remember being here,” became “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
- “I don’t know how long I can endure being in your company,” became “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” And finally…
- “I wish all you people and the people by the people as well as those four people, would just perish from the earth,” became, “…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Of course no recordings of the speech exist, poised as it was just prior to the invention of the phonograph and way before the iPod, but the fact that it is remembered in its final, magnificent format, appears to be largely due to the skill at which the President’s personal attendants sobered him up prior to his arrival in Gettysburg.
In an equally epic discovery, Ms. Spinachbinder has found an early draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, which suggested that the black slaves of the south be freed, but that they should be replaced by “Eye-ties from New Jersey.”
“It’s a wonder he wasn’t shot sooner,” concluded Spinachbinder.