February 12, 2003

NEW BIRTH:

-ESSAY: ON LANGUAGE: Four Score and Seven (WILLIAM SAFIRE, February 9, 2003, NY Times Magazine)
In 1954, Congress added the phrase under God to the Pledge of Allegiance after the phrase ''one nation.'' That was recently challenged by some who feel that an official evocation of the deity breaches the constitutional wall of separation between church and state.

Neither the Nicolay copy nor the Hay copy has that phrase in it. But all three copies he later made for gifts did read ''that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom.'' So did the speech as transcribed by different reporters on the scene at Gettysburg that was published contemporaneously. Did he ad-lib those two words? ''He wouldn't have improvised,'' says David Donald, this generation's leading Lincoln biographer. ''That would have been highly uncharacteristic. That would be unlike Lincoln. But I would say he did, in fact, say it during the speech.''

That suggests to me that Lincoln inserted under God into his reading copy, which has vanished. (If you find it in your attic, call the Library of Congress.) Forget the ''back-of-the-envelope'' myth; that final addition shows he was polishing that speech right until the time came to deliver it.


Unfortunately, the best account of the drafting of the Address is found in Garry Wills's, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America, which, like all his books, is partisan Leftism wrapped in readable history. But the most interesting dispute over the meaning of Lincoln's words comes from Willmoore Kendal, Harry Jaffa and Harvey Mansfield. And the best introduction to that dispute and its deeper significances is probably here: Jaffa Versus Mansfield: Does America Have A Constitutional or A "Declaration of Independence" Soul? (Thomas G. West, Claremont Institute). Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2003 9:02 AM
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