A Reminder That the Original Gettysburg Address Did Not Include the Words ‘Under God’

Today marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and you’ll undoubtedly hear revisionist Christian historians talk about how even Lincoln’s address featured the words “Under God”:

President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address (Library of Congress)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate – we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here, have, thus far, so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Just one problem with that. It’s not the original version of the speech.

Lincoln actually wrote two drafts before delivering the speech — and three afterwards, for fundraising purposes.

Turns out the original two he drafted didn’t include the godly language:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation explains the significance:

Perhaps Lincoln may have ad libbed “under God” in giving his famous address. If so, Lincoln again failed to include those words in writing out a second copy, known as the Hay version, because Lincoln gave it to his secretary John Hay as soon as he returned from Gettysburg. The second version is as godless as the first. This suggests Lincoln certainly didn’t think uniting our nation with deity was important.

It’s entirely appropriate that a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” leave divisive religion out of government, thus ensuring this nation “shall not perish from the Earth.”

Considering the divinely-inspired motives of the Confederacy, it’s not hard to believe that Lincoln, regardless of his personal beliefs, knew God could be invoked by anyone, even those using the idea to justify atrocities, and that leaving God out of his address was a deliberate move.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • RBK

    Both sides of that war were “divinely inspired,” and that was the source of much pain for anyone who gave it a second’s thought– and that’s especially true for Lincoln. Both armies had God on their side, as they always do, and I think you’re right that in part this is why Lincoln found it a better idea to leave the matter out of it.

    But ultimately he followed the advice of some close to him (probably Treasury Secy. Salmon Chase) and added that phrase for the same reason that he wanted to leave it out– that having God bless the thing seemed to matter to most interested parties. It was shrewd politically to pay lip service to God no matter which side you thought he was on or if you believed he existed at all.

    Lincoln’s religious beliefs are somewhat mysterious, but I think it’s undoubtedly true that his biographers and other Christians have tried to whitewash them over time to make him look more like an orthodox Christian, which he was assuredly not. He was not an atheist, and may even have been a bit more than a deist . . . but he was no Christian and those who knew him later in life confirmed that in their letters about him.

  • DougI

    The Confederate Constitution states that their nation is founded upon God. So when people talk about America being founded as a Christian nation clearly they side with the pro-slavery Confederacy and should be properly labeled as traitors to our nation.

    • DesertSun59

      Well, their deity was definitely all about the slavery. It’s well-documented how to treat slaves in the Bible.

  • Rationalist1

    So the “under God” was added to the Fund raising versions of the speech. Not much has changed.

    It’s a marvelous speech, and should be studied and memorized by all.

  • Carmen

    Btw thanks for posting the photo. I learned recently that this is the only known photo of the Gettysburg address. It looks a lot different than I imagined. He is really close to the soldiers, who are surrounding him. I don’t think the secret service would be happy with that today.

    • ShoeUnited

      Lincoln used to elude his secret service all the time during the war to ride around the streets of DC. During. A. War.

      The only question you should be raising is why someone like John Wilkes Booth didn’t get to him sooner? Lincoln was pretty unpopular during a lot of the Civil War.

    • SocraticGadfly

      Actually, the Secret Service did not yet have this as part of its remit. Guards that he had were either US military or occasional Pinkertons, normally.

    • alfaretta

      Our presidents wade into crowds all the time today — they just have Secret Service agents standing very close to them to prevent anything bad happening. I believe the Secret Service protecting the President was a direct result of the Lincoln assassination.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    So what your saying is that Lincoln, by not using the phrase “under God,” proves that he is a Kenyan-born communists fascist bent on destroying America by have socialized medicine death panels for Martha Washington.

    Also as an aside note, the phrase “Under God,” at the time, didn’t mean that we were under God’s domain. But it was an idiom closer in meaning to “God willing” or “with the help of God,” which means by luck or providence something will happen.

    • islandbrewer

      You mean “Inshallah”?

      You must be one of them subversive gay muslim communist fascists.

      • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

        Yes, I am. I am a proud card carrying member of the Gay-Muslim-Communist-Fascists Union, Local 721.

    • Glasofruix

      Ah yes, nothing is as destructive for a country as an equal and affordable acces to medical help for everyone. I mean, look at all those european countries with their free/accessible healthcare, they’re rampant with…er….healthy people who can still afford food after an injury? Cancer patients still able to get their medecine without selling off all of their property (or turning to meth cooking :p )? Those commie bastards !!!

      • dandaman

        “Can still afford” healthy, well labeled food, at that.

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      If anyone doubts that this is what some people think, read the comment section of http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/11/19/obama-omits-god-while-reciting-the-gettysburg-address/

      and then weep for humanity.

      • Pepe

        Note to self: If you ever find yourself at theblaze.com (by someone else’s trickery or sorcery), make sure to not read the comments, especially during work hours. Being depressed is not ideal for work.

      • emblues

        Wow, that was depressing. Won’t do that again. Makes it hard to feel good about humanity knowing there are people that really believe what they do. Seriously a sad state of affairs.

      • TAndrewsW

        I tried, I really did, but you were right, they are the most hate filled bunch, and really, really stupid (sorry, “ignorant”) reading their comments makes me vomity. Scared that they live in the world with us normal folk.

  • C_Reason

    I hate to rain on FFRF’s parade (particularly since I’m a member), but the Wikipedia article on the Gettysburg Address includes a photo of the article that appeared in the New York Times on 11/20/63 with their reporter’s transcription of the Address. That transcription includes the words “under God,” which would indicate that the reporter apparently heard Lincoln say the words “under God” (yes, I suppose it’s possible that he could have been lying or mistaken). In addition, the article also says it is unknown whether either of the first two (god-free) drafts that were prepared before the speech were actually the version used by Lincoln when he delivered the speech.

    • busterggi

      “In addition, the article also says it is unknown whether either of the first two (god-free) drafts that were prepared before the speech were actually the version used by Lincoln when he delivered the speech.”

      Well sure, why would Lincoln use the speech he actually wrote when he could pull a rabbit out of his hat instead?

      • C_Reason

        Are you suggesting that the only possibilities are that he either used one of the first two drafts or that he “pulled a rabbit out of his hat”? Really? Was that because you think no one is allowed to prepare more than two initial drafts of a speech, or might there have been a third (or fourth, or fifth) draft that he actually used for the speech that is lost to history?

        • busterggi

          I’m suggesting Lincoln knew what he wanted to say and we should trust his written words rather than hearsy.

          • C_Reason

            You don’t seem to be following the discussion. There are several versions of his written words, but except for the news reports of the day, we don’t know what his spoken words were – which is really what matters. As I understand it, there is actually no evidence that Lincoln actually spoke from one of the first two drafts, as much as we might wish that were the case.j

      • SocraticGadfly

        The AP reporter on scene reported him as saying “under God.” You are a Gnu Atheist maroon/troll who lives up to stereotype, aren’t you? Or “lives down,” if you will.

        • busterggi

          I’ve been misquoted by the press a couple of times so I know better than to simply trust their quotes.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    My 8th grade U.S. History teacher had us all memorize the Gettysburg Address, and it definitely did not include “under God.”

    Of course that was so long ago, we read it from clay tablets.

    • Anonymous

      They make those out of clay? Who makes them? I bet Apple, they seem like they would do that.

  • Neko

    Garry Wills, who won a Pulitzer for his book “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” notes that while a few of the newspaper copyists covering Gettysburg dropped the word “poor” from “our poor power to add or detract,” they were consistent concerning “under God”:

    But all four accounts have “under God,” confirming that it was actually said, though it is missing from what seem to be the earliest texts in Lincoln’s hand.

    (p. 192)

    • busterggi

      The four gospels also have lots of spurious quotes – its likely the reporters covering Lincoln compared notes to have a unified version of the speech and one of them added it and the other three liked it. If Lincoln had wanted “under god” to be in the speech he’d have written it that way.

      • RBK

        I think it makes sense to side with the evidence. Those covering the event all report it, and Lincoln included it in copies he made of the Address after it was given. So, Lincoln obviously didn’t include the words in his his first two drafts, but he does seem to have included it in the live Address.

        This does not make Hemant’s post less relevant in any way though; one should definitely question why it wasn’t in his drafts, and also why it was added– and what each tells us about Lincoln and the goals of the Address.

      • Neko

        Interesting theory. What other passages of the Gettysburg Address do you imagine the copyists interpolated?

        Wills has a 21-page analysis of the surviving copies of the Gettysburg Address, none of which (as opposed to what Mehta declares in his blog hed) are conclusively considered the “original.” Perhaps you’ll elaborate on your evidence, beyond a specious reference to the gospels, that a little conspiracy developed to Christianize Lincoln’s address.

        • busterggi

          Wills wasn’t there and is accepting hearsay evidence, I’m accepting Lincoln’s own words.

          • Neko

            Lincoln signed off on those words.

            In your eagerness to score a point for atheism, and to this atheist’s consternation, you’re willing to disregard historical scholarship by people who actually know what they’re talking about. Oh well.

            • busterggi

              Well excuse me for not bowing down to your arguement from authority.

              • Neko

                Well excuse me for not bowing down to your faith-based notions.

                • busterggi

                  I’ve been misquoted by the press more than once so I don’t consider them inerrant, its a lack of faith actually.

                • Neko

                  That may be. But your theory is faith-based, since you willfully ignore facts inconvenient to your ideology. This tendency is common, but in your case it appears to be pathological.

                • SocraticGadfly

                  You go, right back!

              • SocraticGadfly

                The fallacy is only committed when it’s an **unwarranted** appeal to authority. Gnu Atheists are why I don’t call myself an atheist.

                • 3lemenope

                  I’ve never wanted to upvote and downvote a comment simultaneously more than during this discussion. Your comment above is like the Platonic form of “First sentence, awesome…WTF happened between the period and the second?”

                • SocraticGadfly

                  Well, the “ellipsis” between sentences is that this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a Gnu commit that, that is, to claim that any appeal to authority, even ones warranted by field of expertise, is a phallacy. That said, Buster sounds like he must be a Pharyngulac or something.

                • 3lemenope

                  That error is pretty ecumenical. I’ve certainly never seen in my own anecdotal experience any reason to think that certain classes of people (except, perhaps, philosophy and rhetoric students) understand how to apply that particular fallacy better or worse than other classes.

                • SocraticGadfly

                  You could be right. That said, said person has resisted multiple invitations here to open his thought processes a bit.

        • indorri

          With respect to “original”, I think the claim is more accurately that the Nikolay and Hay copies are the earliest drafts written by Lincoln we have available, and drafts that were completed prior to the speech, with the remaining manuscripts having been created after.

          Though this is just from a cursory wiki reading.

          • Neko

            The situation is a bit more complicated. Notice that the Library of Congress link in Mehta’s post refers to the Nicolay copy (reproduced above) by its conventional descriptor “First Draft,” not as the “original,” that is, the delivery text Lincoln actually used at Gettysburg. That original may or may not be among the surviving drafts of the speech. Some scholars argue that the Nicolay draft is indeed the delivery text, and there are some compelling arguments to support that position. But it can’t be the actual first draft, because it is too clean a copy. In other words, it’s a copy of an earlier draft. And the draft not only omits “under God” but other phrases as well that appeared in later versions. That is why the Nicolay text recited by President Obama in the Burns segment sounds so awkward in places. Wills is skeptical that Lincoln, a perfectionist in such matters, would have worked off this text when he made the speech.

            The arguments for the Hay text involve some speculation as to its trajectory from hand to hand, so I’ll not go into that here. Wills argues that this text contains not authorial edits but copyist corrections and is unlikely to have been composed before the delivery text.

            Ultimately the evidence supports Lincoln’s inclusion of “under God” in the “original,” the delivery text. The newspaper reporters all reproduced these words, John Nicolay himself admitted to using the Associated Press report to make later copies of the speech, the “authorized” version of the address ackowledged by Edward Everett resembles (but is not identical to) the newspaper reports and may have been reproduced from a text close to the delivery text, and so on.

            I can’t do justice here to Wills’ analysis, so…I recommend the book!

            • SocraticGadfly

              You’re right about the different versions. Some of them were marked up by copyists for pre-press reasons, and more.

              • Neko

                Thank you. (I cribbed all that from “Lincoln at Gettysburg.”)

            • TAndrewsW

              I’m just gonna jump in here, real quick, and thank you all for an interesting, intelligent, and civil discussion. (I’m still recovering from theblaze.com). It’s so great to hear/read adults talk. Thanks for the info.
              Hope you all have a great day!

              • TAndrewsW

                Ummm, I’m really sorry, but when I posted my comment, this blaze link came up and I can’t get rid of it. Feeling vomity now.

      • SocraticGadfly

        And Gabor Borrit has a whole book about the speech. I’m sure Buster in
        his closed mind will call this an appeal to authority.
        http://www.amazon.com/Gettysburg-Gospel-Lincoln-Schuster-Library/dp/0743288211

        • busterggi

          Its based on the same heresay evidence – do you always believe what you read?

          • SocraticGadfly

            Of course I don’t believe everything I read. I’m at the point where I don’t believe a damned thing you write.

            Man, like shooting fish in a barrel. Only problem is, you Gnu fish are too stubborn to admit you’re in a barrel and you’ve been shot. Time to ignore the troll again.

  • Paul Zimmerle
    • DrVanNostrand

      That link answers the exact question I was going to ask: Were there any reporters around writing down the content of the speech? It seems “under god” may have been in there, at least if one can trust wiki.

  • busterggi

    Lincoln could have ad-libbed, “Take my wife, please” but there is no reason to think so. Christians just can’t stand truth in history.

    • SocraticGadfly

      Neither can some Gnu Atheists. This place isn’t the first time I’ve seen the “appeal to authority” fallacy **deliberately** mangled when some Gnu was refuted by facts from an expert **speaking in his or her field of expertise.**

      • busterggi

        rDo you consider theologians as experts in their field of expertise?
        If so how do you manage to believe in all those gods at once?
        If not why not? They have degrees!

  • gg

    When I memorized the Gettysburg address (about 50 years ago) it did not have ‘under god’ in it. As a matter of fact, I had to search my memory for the phrase in the speech and couldn’t recall it being there. Glad to know I was right. Damned conservatives will stick ‘under god’ everywhere, and pretend it was always present.

    • Gehennah

      To many of them, under god is like in bed with fortune cookies, they think it fits with everything.

  • Carpus

    Neko has it right. There is good evidence that ‘under god’ was present when he gave the speech. Maybe he extemporized when he gave the speech, but the transcripts consistently show he said it. And he clearly added it to future copies. This shouldn’t be a great surprise. Lincoln was clearly not an atheist. He references a god (though not the Christian god) in many speeches and letters and attended church throughout his administration. Politics? Maybe …

  • Dan Robinson

    Reading the quotes here (scroll down to “religion”) it looks to me like he was a believer in the Bible. But certainly a humble one.

    http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/quotes.htm

  • Ed Selby

    This is a historical point we non-believers are best to steer clear of. “Under God” may not have been in the draft copies, it clearly was in the fund raising copies, and the on-site journalists reported it as part of the speech.

    Our history is littered with references and appellations to a deity from our leaders and thinkers. That is undeniable. The better part of the speech to focus on is the part about government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. That is clearly a secular view. Lincoln put it out there – government is not a deity sanctioned institution, but one of human beings.

  • SocraticGadfly

    Folks, the version he spoke at Gettysburg had **under God.** It was not something he added after he spoke. So, Hemant, your whole analysis falls apart. Please, Lincoln was not a fully conventional Christian, but let’s not make him into some crypto-atheist. Anybody promoting stupidity like this as supposedly being a dig at the Confederacy should read Lincoln’s nuanced thoughts on religion as expressed in his Second Inaugural Address. http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2013/06/did-abraham-lincoln-omit-god-from-the-gettysburg-address/

    • busterggi

      I fyou want to trust the same press that fell for the Moon hoax and Great Balloon hoax then feel free but I don’t.

      • SocraticGadfly

        Balloon hoax, I know about. There’s no “moon hoax” I’m aware of.

        • busterggi

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Moon_Hoax

          Shockingly enough there are things you are not aware of.

          • SocraticGadfly

            So, I don’t know everything in the world. I do know, on this issue, that you’re wrong and that I’m right. I also know that you either don’t know what constitutes a true appeal to authority rather than a false one, or else you deliberately mangled the two together because you don’t want to face facts. I therefore make a reasonable guess that you don’t know much about logical argumentation or philosophy in general.

            I also know that I’ve wasted too much time on a willfully stupid Gnu Atheist troll.

            • busterggi

              Aw, are you takiing your ball & going home now?

  • SocraticGadfly

    FFRF is even stupider. Anybody who knows Lincoln knows he did NOT “ad lib” in public speeches. Thanks for giving me material for another anti-Gnu blog post, though!

    • busterggi

      “Folks, the version he spoke at Gettysburg had **under God.** ”

      Which was not in the written version and thus an ad-lib. Do you even read your own posts?

      • SocraticGadfly

        “Ad-lib” means he made it up **on the spot,** at least in my dictionary. Don’t you understand English?

      • Neko

        Which was not in the written version and thus an ad-lib.

        So does this mean you concede that Lincoln uttered “under God” while delivering the Gettysburg Address?

        • busterggi

          No, I’m pointing out that you contradict yourself saying first that Lincoln did not ad lib and then saying he did.
          Provide me with evidence I can trust and not an argument from authority.

          • Neko

            Ad lib. Look it up!

    • Derrik Pates

      Lincoln was a deist. Funny how Christians love to assume that anyone who mentions “god” means their god specifically.

      • SocraticGadfly

        Uhh, perhaps a Unitarian, but if by Deist, one means the god who winds up the universe like a clock then never intervenes afterward, probably not so. And, if you were assuming I was a Christian, you were definitely wrong there. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln_and_religion

  • SocraticGadfly
    • Neko

      Ha ha, Gadfly, don’t hold back!

    • Itarion

      I like your points, but your tone less so.

      Indeed, Lincoln did often reference God, or at least some god. That’s beside the point of this post here, which tells you outright its intent. As a reminder that the original Address did not include “under God”, which is true and undisputed, as per two copies in his own handwriting. So “omitting” the words technically isn’t even an full omission, just a different copy being used. [This happens a lot with historical texts.] We can all guess at his intentions for not mentioning God in the originals he penned, but that’s all just so much vacuous speculation. And since the sounds of his speaking have long since faded to nothing, we will never know with any sort of certainty what he actually said.

      • SocraticGadfly

        The tone? FFRF saying “ad-libbed” and “slyly”? Hemant claiming this was a dig at the Confederate Constitution? Both of them having a shallow understanding (perhaps deliberate) of Lincoln? Sorry, but “tone” issues didn’t start with me.

        And, no, we DO know what he said. Since the AP was there, barring the AP reporter deliberately inserting those two words, we know what he said.

        • Itarion

          But, unfortunately, no recordings of Lincoln’s voice exist, since he died 12 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the first device to record and play back sound.http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Ask-an-Expert-What-Did-Abraham-Lincolns-Voice-Sound-Like.html#ixzz2lQBDobUA

          No, we can’t know with any certainty. Reporters are wont to stuff in things that don’t belong, and so there is no guarantee that none of that did happen. Did he include “under God” in his speaking of the Address? It is entirely possible, and more than a little bit likely. I will admit that, and it does show up in later transcripts etc.

          BUT, since there is not an audio recording of the event, which gives back precisely the words put in with no bias, there is no way to check against what really occurred. This is the problem of all history. It’s all likely-did and probably-happened.

          • SocraticGadfly

            I think it’s “reasonable certainty,” even without a recording. Besides, people can put stuff into recorded versions. Or take it out. Rosemary Woods? Or claim that the whole thing was faked. Capricorn 21?

            Methinks you’re trying to hedge your bets on this issue. It’s more than “more than a little bit likely.”

            • Itarion

              Reasonable enough for civil suits, but possibly not criminal.

              Recording technology in its infancy, as it was a couple decades after Lincoln’s death, would have been too simplistic to allow for convincing editing. Removal of a word or two would leave noticeable marks in the audio and on the medium itself [not to mention the copies with the words still in], while adding the words would have been essentially impossible. Audio recordings of events are more useful than written accounts. [Not to say that written accounts are not useful, mind you.]

              Finally, yeah, I’m probably hedging some, but I also have a tendency to understate things. I do think that it’s actually quite probable, in case that’s not what you got.

          • Neko

            Right. History deals in probabilities, and the probability is high, based on the evidence, that Lincoln included the words “under God” in his address. These words are independently attested in the various news reports, as explained (further to what’s already been offered) in footnote 19 of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln Volume 7 (via Gadfly’s link):

            http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/lincoln7/1:40.2?rgn=div2;view=fulltext

            To deny that this took place you must, like busterggi, resort to conspiracy theory.

            Scroll down for a reproduction of the column the New York Times ran the day after the address:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_Address

            The specific evidence must almost be weighed against Lincoln’s rhetorical practice as preserved in his other writings. Did Lincoln at times use religious language in his oratory? The answer is an unqualified yes. In addition, Lincoln rigorously prepared his speeches in advance, so the existence of several different drafts is uncontroversial. The only handwritten copy that Lincoln dated, titled and signed was the “Bliss” copy which included “under God”:

            http://www.papersofabrahamlincoln.org/how-you-can-help/our-search-for-documents/notes-on-the-gettysburg-address

            The hyper-skepticism displayed in this thread is selective, because its interest isn’t to arrive at the most plausible scenario based on the evidence, but to confirm the FFRF’s wishful thinking that “Lincoln certainly didn’t think uniting our nation with deity was important.” Perhaps Lincoln used the phrase as a flourish or a concession to public sentiment; who knows. But certainly? Not.

            • Itarion

              I concede that he probably did say it, and admit that I do have, to some degree, a desire that he hadn’t. But as we all know, my desires are beside the point in determining what [probably] happened.

              I will point out that the Bliss copy was prepared after the speech was given, and also that, comparative to the rest of his speeches, omitted a significant portion of god references. Does that mean something? Probably to a psychohistorian, but psychology is sketchy enough in person, let alone from 150 years away.

              • Neko

                I also prefer the speech without the words “under God,” not because I’m an atheist but because I oppose religious nationalism. And also for aesthetic reasons: the words break the declarative power of the line. Oh well. It would be nice to know why Lincoln made the change, but we’ll never know.

                • Itarion

                  And also for aesthetic reasons

                  Oh, good, it’s not just me.

  • Truth

    Except that the AP and Chicago Tribune, amongst others, reported immediately after the speech that Lincoln did specifically use the words ‘under God’ in the Gettysburg Address…

  • Fred Bailey

    Well done.


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