Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Obama, "Under God," and the Gettysburg Address

Conservatives are going crazy today because Barack Obama, while participating in a Ken Burns project on the Gettysburg Address, left out the phrase "under God" in his recitation of this great speech by Abraham Lincoln.

When I first heard this, I was very surprised.  It just seemed so odd, especially after Obama inadvertently left "God" out of a 2010 reference to the Declaration of Independence.  How could he make the same mistake twice?

But then I did some investigating.  After spending less than a minute on the "Learn the Address" website, I found this statement: "Did you know there are five versions of the Gettysburg Address?  We asked President Obama to read the first, the 'Nicolay Verson'."  You can learn about the five manuscript copies here.  The Nicolay version does not include the "under God" line in it.  By the way, Nicolay was one of Lincoln's personal secretaries.

Well, that solves the problem.  There is no conspiracy here!  It turns out that Obama was participating in a history lesson.  Perhaps this small controversy will now alert many to the fact that there are different versions of the speech Lincoln gave on November 19, 1863.

But I do wonder why Obama's staff would have agreed to let him read the John Nicolay version? Surely they knew that it did not contain the "under God" reference and as a result would lead to a big political headache at a time when Obama has enough problems to deal with on the Affordable Care Act front. Surely someone did their homework and thought about the political implications of his reading of the Nicolay version.

But apparently Obama or his staff did not anticipate this problem.  Yet another case why we need more historians in the politics business.