From now until January 4, 2009 people fortunate enough to visit the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. have the opportunity to visit a rarely displayed copy of The Gettysburg Address written in Abraham Lincoln's hand.
This is the so-called "Bliss Copy" of the Address, which is the fifth and final copy known to exist in Lincoln's own writing. This copy was written by Lincoln at the request of Mr. Alexander Bliss, who along with Mr. John Pendleton Kennedy organized and published a book called "Autograph Leaves Of Our Country's Authors." The book was created to raise money for the U.S. Sanitary and U.S. Christian Commissions, which were the two major women's relief organizations in the North during the Civil War. It contained facsimile reproductions of writings and autographs of the most famous authors of the era, and included a facsimile of this copy of the Address. The two commissions were begun in 1861 in order to help promote clean and healthy conditions in Union army camps, set up field hospitals, and provide services and comfort to the soldiers.
The "Bliss Copy" is the source for most modern facsimile reproductions of the Address, primarily because it is the only copy which contains Lincoln's signature. The text is also slightly different from the earlier copies; for example, Lincoln removed the word "here" from the clause "for which they (here) gave their lives......" in this version.
This copy of the Address remained in the hands of the Bliss family until 1949, when it was purchased at auction by Mr. Oscar Cintas (a wealthy former Ambassador from Cuba to the United States) for the then-record sum of $54,000. Mr. Cintas willed the document to the people of the United States, but with the stipulation that it be displayed in the Lincoln Bedroom in The White House. It remains in The White House collection to this day, which is why it is seldom seen in public. Mrs. Laura Bush generously permitted the document to be displayed at the current exhibit at the museum.
The document is on display in the Albert H. Small documents gallery in the museum. Unfortunately, photography of the Bliss Copy is not permitted to the public, nor is photography permitted in the gallery. The image I've included showing the Bliss Copy and the gallery is from the Associated Press, which had the approval to take this photo.
I had the good fortune to visit the National Museum of American History on the opening weekend and made sure I saw the Address. While the exhibit itself is small, it is highly informative and very well done. There are various signs to read which helps place this copy of the Address into context. A copy of the book "Autograph Leaves" is only display along with a brief history of the Sanitary Fair and commissions. There are two beautiful images of Lincoln in the gallery, including a painting of Lincoln which was donated to the museum by Lincoln's grandson (there are no living direct descendants of Lincoln). Finally, there is a recording of the actor Liam Neeson reciting the Address. Neeson is to portray Lincoln in Daniel Spielberg's biopic of Lincoln. I have to say, I've heard the actor Sam Waterston's recital of the Address, and found his recitation to be more moving and warmer than Neeson's.
If you have the opportunity to be in Washington, D.C. before January 4, 2009, don't miss the chance to see this copy of the Gettysburg Address. And by all means, also see the original Star-Spangled Banner once more on exhibit after a 10-year restoration. It's literally just a few feet away from the Address.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 10:12 AM