I am quite far behind in my reading of First Things, and so didn't notice Robert George's article late last year on "God and Gettysburg," in which he recounts his surprise when, sitting at a conference and reading a pamphlet put out by the American Censorshi ... er, I mean the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS), he noticed that two words had been dropped from the Gettysburg Address printed in the pamphlet: "under God."
George first noted that the pamphlet contained a page saying "The printing of this copy of the U.S. Constitution and of the nation’s two other founding texts, the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, was made possible through the generosity of Laurence and Carolyn Tribe"--despite the fact that the Gettysburg Address was not one of the "founding documents" of this nation, being written some 89 years after the nation's founding.
But George's most telling remarks concerned the missing words: under God.
After George made the criticism, Caroline Fredrickson, propaganda minister of the ACS, fired back on their blog that George's criticism was a "distraction." A distraction, apparently is worse than a distortion in the ACS's eyes:
The truth is, five drafts of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address exist, and historians are uncertain about which one Lincoln actually read on the battlefield. Three included references to God and two did not. Which one was the most accurate is not and cannot be known for certain.The ACS uses the "Hay draft" of the speech, a fact that was only made clear on their website after George made the criticism. George explains each of the five drafts and a bit of their history, and then observes:
Of course, none of these copies is actually the Gettysburg Address. The Gettysburg Address is the set of words actually spoken by Lincoln at Gettysburg. And, as it happens, we know what those words are. (The Bliss copy nearly perfectly reproduces them.) Three entirely independent reporters, including a reporter for the Associated Press, telegraphed their transcriptions of Lincoln’s remarks to their editors immediately after the president spoke. All three transcriptions include the words “under God,” and no contemporaneous report omits them. There isn’t really room for equivocation or evasion: Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—one of the founding texts of the American republic—expressly characterizes the United States as a nation under God.Fredrickson's answer?
George cites the recollections of several reporters of the time who stated that the president included the words "under God" in his remarks. Did President Lincoln improvise and add those words as he spoke? Perhaps! I wasn't at Gettysburg, so I can't be sure that George wasn't. As for the journalists' accounts, it would be interesting to read a history of the Civil War based solely on contemporaneous reports of journalists of the time, which would include countless conflicts, distortions, and inaccuracies. At the very least, honest scholars must acknowledge that wise people have differing views based on the available facts.Oh, brother.
So you've got a document which has traditionally include the missing two words, three of the five documents contain them, and all of the independent contemporary accounts contain them and you choose the one that doesn't contain them?
No telling what these people are doing to the Constitution and Declaration.