More from Allen Guelzo's new "Gettysburg: The Last Invasion," a sweeping and meticulous recounting of the battle that never loses sight of its essentials. Mr. Guelzo, in an epilogue, says something about the Gettysburg Address I'd not seen noted in a life reading Lincoln.
It turns out Lincoln gave a kind of preview of the address only three days after the battle had ended. It was July 7. Word had reached the War Department of another Union triumph, on July 4, at Vicksburg, Miss. This greatly cheered a glum Lincoln, who'd been grieving Gen. George Meade's decision not to follow and crush Lee's forces as they retreated from Pennsylvania. What happened at Vicksburg underscored the momentum toward victory. Lincoln called the news "great. . . . It is great!"
Word swept through Washington. A crowd marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and called for a speech.
Lincoln improvised from a second-floor window. Actually he rambled, but you can see where even then he was going. Guelzo puts Lincoln's remarks in italics: "How long ago is it? . . . eighty odd years—since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that 'all men are created equal.' " The victories at Gettysburg and Vicksberg, he said, had put the opponents of that truth on the run.
This, Lincoln said, was "a glorious theme," but he was not prepared, at that moment, to do it justice.
He would, however, in the next two weeks, as he thought, and formulated, and decided exactly how he wanted to say what he wanted to say.
"How long ago is it—eighty odd years?" would become, "Four score and seven years ago." Less dry and numeric, that. Almost biblical, as if the events of 1776 were epochal in the history of man.
Which is what he thought.
And he was right.
Happy 237th Independence Day to America, the great and fabled nation that is still, this day, the hope of the world.