How Many Words in the Gettysburg Address?

The only known photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg.

Lincoln at Gettysburg. Lincoln is seated with his hat off and to the left of the tall man with the top hat (detail below). Click to see a larger version.

How many words are there in the Gettysburg Address? 269 or 272?

One of the things that jumped out at me as I watched dozens of YouTube videos this morning was the disagreement about what Lincoln actually said. In this video published by Ken Burns on YouTube Aug. 2, 2012, the number of words is said to be 269.

But in this video published by PBS on YouTube Nov. 15, 1013, the number of words is said to be 272.

So who is right? We don’t know. We known essentially what Lincoln said but nobody knows for sure “exactly” what Lincoln said at Gettysburg. Lincoln was not the featured speaker, there was no stenographer taking notes, and no one made a recording (the earliest known “recording” of a human voice was made in 1860 in France).

There are five verified copies of the Gettysburg Address that are hand written by Lincoln, all of them being somewhat different in the wording. When our family visited Gettysburg in 1986, they had an exhibit about the five versions of the Gettysburg Address and they had one of the five originals on display. Two versions were written before the address and Lincoln wrote three more copies to give away after the address.

The two versions he wrote before the address (the only two of the five versions he could actually have used at Gettysburg) do not have the words “under God” after the word “nation”. The three copies Lincoln wrote after the address do have the words “under God”. It is possible Lincoln added “under God” as he was giving the address and that is why he added them to the three versions he wrote later. Some witnesses at Gettysburg say he used the words “under God”. No one knows what other minor changes he might have made as he delivered the address.

You can see all five versions here.

Unanswered questions about the Gettysburg Address are here.

Lincoln at Gettysburg. Detail.

Lincoln at Gettysburg. Detail.