Answer Man: Gettysburg drafts muddle the record

News-DemocratNovember 20, 2013 

A friend told me that several well-known people recorded Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as part of the 150th anniversary celebration, but President Obama omitted "under God" when he did it. You're usually an apologist for Obama, so how do you explain this action that seems to bolster suspicions that he is a Muslim at heart? -- Larry (by telephone)

Good grief. With the president's approval ratings plummeting, you'd think the White House would take extra pains to make sure Mr. Obama would offend absolutely no one during a feel-good occasion such as this.

But even in this mom's-apple-pie moment, some think Obama unwittingly shot himself in the foot. Why? Because to be truer to history, he was given a copy of the address that does not contain the words "under God."

That's right: There are different versions of the speech because Lincoln, like any good writer, kept tinkering with it to improve it. They were small changes, but in this case it was a huge difference that has had conservatives lighting up the blogosphere like a verbal napalm attack. Here's the story:

As part of the speech's 150th anniversary celebration, award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns invited numerous personalities to record the address, including Bill O'Reilly, Stephen Colbert and former presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Of course, the anti-Obama forces noticed immediately when Obama's video version surfaced without "under God."

"Lincoln added 'under God' as he was looking out over battlefield. why would Obama remove?" former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted.

"Obama's omission of 'under God' is more evidence of his anti-Christian bigotry," conservative Christian Bryan Fischer said. "He honors Islam but disrespects Christianity."

Absolutely, positively not true, the White House shot back. There reportedly are five copies of the Gettysburg Address that Lincoln penned himself. He wrote three of these after his historic appearance at the cemetery's dedication on Nov. 19, 1863.

These are known as the Everett copy, the Bancroft copy and, finally, the Bliss copy, which many of Burns' participants used. They read, "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom ... "

But Obama was given the Nicolay copy, which is often called the "first draft" because it is believed to be the earliest version of the address that exists. (A fifth version -- the Hay copy -- is thought to be the closest to what Lincoln actually said that momentous day, according to the Gettysburg Foundation.)

At www.learntheaddress.org, Burns says he purposely asked Obama to read the Nicolay version, in part, because of its historical significance. It is also one of the two manuscripts of the speech held by the Library of Congress. But as both it and the Hay versions read "that the nation shall have a new birth of freedom." No mention of God.

As best historians can determine, Lincoln's final written remarks that he used at the cemetery himself did not contain "under God." However, at least three news organizations reported that he said it, so he apparently ad-libbed it. Afterward, he must have appreciated its significance, so he added it to the three copies that he wrote later.

Obama apparently followed the Nicolay text word for word, so he didn't wing "under God" on his own recording. But to conservatives who suggest that he has Islamic tendencies, the White House says Obama rejected a petition calling for the removal of "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

To see the various versions of the address, go to www.gettysburgfoundation.org.

This is the first year we have not seen cranberry sauce on sale. Is there some reason that the retailers are not lowering the price of my favorite part of Tday? -- S.J., of Belleville

Au contraire. It's just that you apparently haven't gotten used to the new "sale" prices.

If I remember correctly, I bought brand-name vegetables at three for a buck just a year or two ago. Now I start stocking up if they dip to 70 cents a can.

The same apparently is true of cranberry sauce. I hope I don't cause a run (I've already gobbled up a dozen cans), but while some grocers are offering four for $5, CVS currently is having a blowout sale of Ocean Spray through Saturday at 99 cents a can (Limit 2). Better get moving.

Today's trivia

What national park is 95 percent water?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: E.T., drive home. That's what that sweet little alien from the 1982 Steven Spielberg film could do on Nevada State Route 375. It's a 98-mile stretch of road that runs near the super-secret Area 51 government base. So many people reported seeing UFOs and otherworldly activity along the road that the state played along and renamed it the Extraterrestrial Highway in February 1996. Two months later, "Independence Day" stars Jeff Goldblum, Robert Loggia, Bill Pullman and Brent Spiner attended christening ceremonies in Rachel. The speed limit? Warp 7.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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