Those in attendance at Lincoln’s November 1863 short address after acclaimed orator Edward Everett’s long speech were disappointed, with Lincoln himself describing his remarks as a “wet blanket.”
Lincoln employed three private secretaries, more than any of his predecessors and indicative of his limited writing and communication abilities. What is referred to as his “Gettysburg address,” was certainly revised for publication and one secretary, John Nicolay, admits this. In fact there are five known manuscripts in Lincoln’s own hand, which differ in a number of details as well as contemporary newspaper reprints of the speech which could vary depending on the reporter’s notes. It is not even clear where exactly Lincoln stood when speaking.
After Lincoln’s assassination, quite possibly arranged by “men unfriendly to him while he lived,” the Radicals of his party and who wanted him out of the way for a free hand with punishing the South, the former president’s apotheosis began.
Lincoln’s Rewritten Gettysburg Address
“General Donn Piatt, who traveled with Lincoln during his campaign and knew Lincoln perhaps as well as any man: “When a leader dies all good men go to lying about him. Abraham Lincoln has almost disappeared from human knowledge. I hear of him, I read of him in eulogies and biographies, but fail to recognize the man I knew in life . . . Lincoln faced and lived through the awful responsibility of war with a courage that came from indifference.”
Ward Lamon, intimate friend of Lincoln and his United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, and Colonel in the Secret Service; Historian Shepherd of Baltimore; W.H. Cunningham of the Montgomery (Missouri) Star, who sat right behind Lincoln at Gettysburg, all agreed and publicly stated that the speech published was not the one delivered by Lincoln . . .
[B]oth Edward Everett and [Secretray of State William] Seward expressed their disappointment and there was no applause; that Lincoln said: “Lamon, that speech was like a wet blanket on the audience. I am distressed by it.”
These gentlemen who heard the speech all say that the speech delivered was not the one which has been so extensively printed. Even [Lincoln secretary John] Nicolay says: “It was revised.”
William H. Herndon, under whom Lincoln began his law practice and longtime friend, wrote one of the first biographies of Lincoln, “Story of a Great Life,” but because of its frankness in unfolding the life of Lincoln it was bought up and suppressed. It was republished some years later, much modified . . . Lamon, in his “Life of Lincoln,” said:
“The ceremony of Mr. Lincoln’s apotheosis was planned and executed after his death by men who were unfriendly to him while he lived. Men who had exhausted the resources of their skill and ingenuity in venomous distractions of the living Lincoln were first after his death to undertake the task of guarding his memory, not as a human being, but as a god. Among those participating in the apotheosis Lamon names Seward, Edwin Stanton, Thad Stevens and Charles Sumner.”
(Two Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, The Naylor Company, 1973, pp. 78-79)