Of the five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address, the Library of Congress has two. President Lincoln gave one of these to each of his two private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. The copy on exhibit, which belonged to Nicolay, is often called the "first draft" because it is believed to be the earliest copy that exists.
Considerable scholarly debate continues
about whether the Nicolay copy is the "reading" copy. In 1894 Nicolay wrote that
one of the arguments supporting the contrary theory that the delivery text has
been lost is that some of the words and phrases of the Nicolay copy do not match
contemporaneous accounts. The words "under God," for example, are missing from
the phrase "that this nation [under God] shall have a new birth of freedom...."
In order for the Nicolay draft to have been the reading copy,
draft," probably made by Lincoln shortly after his return to Washington from
Gettysburg, was given to John Hay, whose descendants donated both it and the
Nicolay copy to the Library of Congress in 1916. There are numerous variations
in words and punctuation between these two drafts. Because these variations
provide clues into
three copies of the Address were written by