The Gettysburg Goddamn Address

Sorry for the language.

My nine-year-old’s been studying Lincoln at school, and announced this morning that the Gettysburg Address had been written on the back of an envelope. I smiled and said that that was an old wives’ tale, and that I was sorry to debunk such a fine old piece of U.S. folklore, but that the envelope story had no more validity than Parson Weems’ Washington/Cherry Tree story. (I then told her that there was no Santa Claus.)

She stuck to her guns, said it had TOO been written on an envelope, her teacher had said so (I tried to buttonhole him about it this morning when I dropped her off at school, but he was busy beating a young miscreant with a hickory-stick), and then my wife walked in and said that SHE had always thought it had been written on an envelope, too.

So I’m surrounded by cretins and suckers and credulous nincompoops, and I need backup. Cecil DID address this pre-urban legend somewhere in the Canon, did he not? I tried a search, came up blank.


Hope this helps.

I didn’t find anything in books or archives either. Submit it to Cecil–this is deserving of official writ, especially after Missy2U has done the work.
<font color=#DCDCDC>four score and four points after

It’s amazing how many educated people believe this myth. Here are links for a museum, a school and a library that all state that Lincoln did indeed write the Gettysburg Adress on an envelope:

Perhaps this little piece of non-fact is so persistant because an envelope is where one expects to find an address.

I head that Lincoln was not the first in his class at school, and therefore got into the habit of writing answers on his shirt cuffs, the back of his hand, etc…

That habit persisted well into his adulthood. The Gettysburg address, in keeping with his old mores, was written on his shirtcuffs, the back of his hands, and the inside of one arm. Which accounts for the many strange gesticulations of Lincoln during his speech, which the onlookers took for rhetorical displays of passion, but were actually attempts to read his speech without appearing too obvious.

But seriously now, since the common belief is that the Gettysburg address was written on the back of the envelope, what evidence is there to suggest otherwise? Missy2U’s site says that the earliest known written copy is probably not the reading copy.

Perhaps because it presumes that the President of the United States would not be able to get his hands on some goddamn writing paper?

I think the envelope version is supposed to tell us that Lincoln dashed of the G Address in a few seconds flat - a casually written spontaneous work of genius.

In real fact he planned and practiced the Address and, maybe wrote it down a few times and one of those time used an envelope or envelope and paper as stated in the work cited above.

Making the G. A. a planned work of genius.

What is more significant, in my opinion, is that the President wrote a great speech, which is used to this day to teach effective writing skills. Do any of today’s presidents write their own speeches?

Is it also UL that the speech was not well received?

Gallagher: Why can’t you send a letter to Washington?

Shean: Because he’s dead! But you can send a letter to Lincoln . . . He left his Gettysburg address!

[ducking tomatoes]

This rumor probably started as a joke. Does anyone know if the envelope ever got to Gettysburg? Or was it returned “Insufficient Gettysburg Address”?

Civil war humor, maybe?

Some mornings, it’s just not worth chewing through the leather straps.
– Emo Phillips

In England, at least, “written on the back of an envelope” means written hastily or on the spur of the moment (e.g. “back of an envelope figure” = rough estimate).

Could it be that this figure of speech has been interpreted over-literally on this occasion?

While it’s true that the Gettysburg Goddamn Address wasn’t written on the back on an envelope, it has been well documented that the first draft of the Declaration of Fucking Indepenance was.

Plunging like stones from a slingshot on Mars.

“Declaration of Fucking Independance”? Is that the same thing as a Divorce Decree?

I must be hard up if I’m riffing on my own jokes. Sorry.

Speaking of ULs … we have a family UL that states that the other speaker at Gettysburg, the long-winded one, Edward Everett, is some sort of distant relative. I don’t know though. We’ve got an awful lot of genealogy and even though this guy wouldn’t be all that far back (2nd or 3rd great-grandfather if it were a direct line) I’ve never seen his name. Maybe his birth certificate was in the envelope Lincoln used to write his address.

I’m a vegetarian once removed. I only eat meat from animals that are vegetarians.

I had heard that as Lincoln was editing his speech, he scribbled some phrases on what was handy (the envelope), liked the way they sounded, and included them in a later draft.

The stories I’ve heard agree with Kunilou- namely, that Lincoln worked on the speech a great deal, constantly changing and revising it. The final version he read (which may not be the one we’re all familiar with- I’ve also heard the story that the reporters were so entranced by the speech that they forgot to write down what Lincoln was saying, and so the final version we know of today may include further revisions) was written on the back of an envelope, with revisions he had made while on the train ride to Gettysburg.

And to answer frolix8:

I believe Herbert Hoover was the last president to write his own speeches.

And it is most definitely an UL that the speech was not well received- it went over to thunderous applause and cheers.


This is not a sig.

Anyone remember what year King John signed the Magna Bloody Carta?

True, Jois. Lincoln spend a great deal of time writing, editing, and re-writing that speech. Though I don’t have the exact quote, he is said to have later mentioned something like “By the time I neared Gettysburg I thought that the address was as dry as a bone and would not be remembered any longer than the time it took to present.”

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

That would be in the year of our Lord (Jesus H. Christ!) 1215.