Press Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940

December 19, 1994

Library of Congress to Display Gettysburg Address

National Archives to Display Emancipation Proclamation In Joint Exhibition of Two Milestone Lincoln Documents

For the first time since 1973, the Library of Congress will display one of its two original copies of the Gettysburg Address. Known as the Nicolay copy, one of the first drafts, the two-page document will be on view in Madison Memorial Hall, Madison Building, 101 Independence Avenue S.E. The original will be on view for three days only: January 13, 14, and 16, Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday holiday, and will be replaced with a high- quality facsimile on January 17 through 19. Due to the original document's fragility, the Library's conservators have determined that it can be displayed safely for a maximum of only three days every other year.

Complementing the display, entitled "The Gettysburg Address: Words That Shaped America," will be related materials from the Library's incomparable collection of Lincolniana:

  • A four-page letter from David Wills, the principal organizer of the Gettysburg National Memorial Cemetery, dated November 2, 1863, inviting President Lincoln to Gettysburg on November 19 to "formally set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks." Edward Everett, the principal orator, had been invited to the ceremonies on September 23.
  • A personal note from David Wills inviting the president to spend the night at his house "as the Hotels in our town will be crowded and in confusion...."

Also on display will be the only known photograph, from the collections of the National Archives, of Lincoln at the Gettysburg dedication on November 19, 1863.

Hours for the exhibition are: 8:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. except on Saturday, January 14, and Monday, January 16, when the Hall will be open until 6 p.m. Madison Hall only will be open on January 16 in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

The exhibition will be available online over the Internet on the Library's World Wide Web server (

The Library of Congress and the National Archives are joining in the simultaneous display of two milestone documents of the Civil War era. The original of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, will also be exhibited January 12-19, in the National Archives Rotunda, Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th streets N.W. Hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

In announcing this collaborative effort, the Librarian of Congress, Dr. James H. Billington, called it "a signal opportunity for the American public to view two original and irreplaceable icons of our nation's history." Both institutions will sponsor public programs relating to this unique joint display.

On Friday, January 13, Dr. Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, will speak at the Library of Congress on "1863: America's `New Birth of Freedom.'" His lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the Madison Building.

Actor Jim Getty, reenacting President Abraham Lincoln, will read the Gettysburg Address and answer questions about it, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War from noon-2 p.m. on Monday, January 16, in the Library's Madison Hall.

For further details on these and other public programs, call the Library of Congress at (202) 707-8000 and the National Archives at (202) 501-5000.

Little Known Facts about the Gettysburg Address

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke briefly at the dedication of a national cemetery. More than 100 years later, his 272 words -- known as the Gettysburg Address -- are cherished for their poignant brevity and eloquence.

The Gettysburg Address has long been the source of myths and misconceptions. Principal among these is that the Address was hastily scribbled on the back of an envelope as Lincoln rode to Gettysburg by train. The surviving drafts, two of which are in the custody of the Library of Congress, argue against this. So does the historical record of Lincoln's practice of careful preparation and desire for polished texts. Although scholars still are divided about which is the delivery text, due to disparities among the surviving written drafts and the contemporaneous accounts of the delivered speech, it is generally agreed that Lincoln took great care in preparing this address.

Garry Wills, author of Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, believes "it is improbable that the delivery text still exists." However, of the five surviving copies, the two drafts that were given to the Library of Congress are most closely tied to the event. President Lincoln gave these drafts to his two secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. Following Nicolay's death in 1901, his copy passed to the Hay family. In 1916, the descendants of John Hay donated both these drafts to the Library of Congress. The other surviving drafts, the so- called Everett, Bancroft, and Bliss copies, were made for charitable purposes well after the Address was delivered. These copies are now held by the Illinois State Historical Library, the Cornell University Library, and the White House, respectively.

The draft that the Library will display in January is the so-called first draft, which was given to John Nicolay. The first page is written in ink on Executive Mansion stationery, the second page in pencil on foolscap. There are many variations in capitalization, punctuation and wording between the first and second drafts. It is these drafts that are still consulted by researchers of the period as interest in the Gettysburg Address continues.

There is some conjecture that Lincoln's rather belated invitation to speak at the dedication in Gettysburg was only a courtesy and that David Wills did not anticipate that the President would accept; these are also misconceptions.

The enclosure sent with the formal invitation, both of which are part of this display, contains a personal offer of hospitality from Wills to the president. Lincoln's decision to accept the invitation reflects his desire to address the divided nation at a critical juncture of the Civil War. His thinking on the purpose of the war had shifted dramatically since he entered the White House, and he seems to have been anxious to redefine the struggle in the popular mind.

Before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, the war had been fought largely to preserve the union of states; afterward, it was primarily a war against slavery. Although it applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states, the proclamation did announce the acceptance of African-Americans into the Union Army and Navy. By the war's end, nearly 200,000 African-Americans had fought for the Union and freedom.

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PR 94-190
ISSN 0731-3527

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