Writing the Gettysburg Address
Martin P. Johnson
Winner: Lincoln Prize
Four score and seven years ago . . . .
“Johnson contends that the Gettysburg Address is an underappreciated and more radical signpost in Lincoln’s thought than previously believed, situated as it was only weeks before his annual message to Congress in December, when Lincoln stated that emancipation would be a precondition of reunion.”
—Journal of Southern History
“Beautifully written and closely argued, this book grips the reader much like a detective novel and teaches us how little we know about a subject we thought we knew so well.”
—Library Journal, starred reviewSee all reviews...
“A truly remarkable example of exhaustive scholarship whose findings will last generations.”
—Presidential Studies Quarterly
“This book moves at once into the “top ten” list of Lincoln studies and offers a challenging model for all future documentary research on the writings of Lincoln.”
—Allen Guelzo, Journal of American History
“So you thought you knew everything about Lincoln's most famous three minutes? Martin Johnson has opened new windows onto a canonical moment in history, and unleashed a fresh breeze of new research and sharp analysis. This is simply one of the best books ever written about the Gettysburg Address. It will be read and appreciated by Lincoln students for years to come.”
—Harold Holzer, Chairman, Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation
“With Sherlock Holmes-like ingenuity and sophistication, Johnson solves a number of mysteries surrounding the composition, delivery, and reception of the Gettysburg Address. His strikingly original conclusions rest on exhaustive research and subtle analysis. This book is a major contribution to the Lincoln literature, shedding bright light on the evolution of Lincolns thinking about the significance of the Civil War.—:”
—Michael Burlingame, author of Abraham Lincoln: A Life
“Through exhaustive research and detective work, Johnson provides a near hour-by-hour account of how Lincoln wrote and delivered the Gettysburg Address. The result is a masterful work of historical scholarship that erases many of the myths and mysteries that surround the speech and allows us to understand it in a new light.”
—Louis Masur, author of Lincolns Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the UnionSee fewer reviews...
Are any six words better known, of greater import, or from a more crucial moment in our nation’:s history? And yet after 150 years the dramatic and surprising story of how Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address has never been fully told. Until now.
Martin Johnson's remarkable work of historical and literary detection illuminates a speech, a man, and a moment in history that we thought we knew. Johnson guides readers on Lincolns emotional and intellectual journey to the speakers platform, revealing that Lincoln himself experienced writing the Gettysburg Address as an eventful process that was filled with the possibility of failure, but which he knew resulted finally in success beyond expectation.
We listen as Lincoln talks with the cemetery designer about the ideals and aspirations behind the unprecedented cemetery project, look over Lincoln's shoulder as he rethinks and rewrites his speech on the very morning of the ceremony, and share his anxiety that he might not live up to the occasion. And then, at last, we stand with Lincoln at Gettysburg, when he created the words and image of an enduring and authentic legend.
Writing the Gettysburg Address resolves the puzzles and problems that have shrouded the composition of Lincoln's most admired speech in mystery for fifteen decades. Johnson shows when Lincoln first started his speech, reveals the state of the document Lincoln brought to Gettysburg, traces the origin of the false story that Lincoln wrote his speech on the train, identifies the manuscript Lincoln held while speaking, and presents a new method for deciding what Lincolns audience actually heard him say.
Ultimately, Johnson shows that the Gettysburg Address was a speech that grew and changed with each step of Lincoln's eventful journey to the podium. His two-minute speech made the battlefield and the cemetery into landmarks of the American imagination, but it was Lincolns own journey to Gettysburg that made the Gettysburg Address.