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collaborative writing

[Photo of William Seward]Bill and I were kind of chuckling via email about the current covers of Newsweek and Time, the former reflecting my fixation with comparing Obama and Lincoln, and the latter picking up on Bill's suggestion that our times may eventually cause a president to consider policies as drastic as some of Franklin Roosevelt's.  (Bill was pointing specifically to "the 1933 Executive Order 6102, which required everyone to sell their gold to the government.")

Bill expressed his surprise at Newsweek's claim that the lines quoted by Obama last week at Grant Park taken from Lincoln's First Inaugural Address ("We are not enemies, but friends. . . . ") weren't Lincoln's but William Seward's.  That didn't ring true, so I reread my history and found that Newsweek had oversimplified things.

The words are Lincoln's, but he was working off of a revision sent to him by Seward, Lioncoln's chief rival for the Republican nomination the year before and his choice for Secretary of State.   Seward's revision: "I close. We are not we must not be aliens or enemies but fellow countrymen and brethren." Lincoln's revision of Seward's revision: "I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies."

Lincoln had sent his first draft to Seward originally, and Seward worked long and hard to take the bellicosity out of it.   Lincoln accepted Seward's approach wholeheartedly.   Their collaboration on the speech produced one of the finest perorations in history.   Here's Seward's revised ending:

I close. We are not we must not be aliens or enemies but fellow countrymen and brethren. Although passion has strained our bonds of affection too hardly they must not, I am sure they will not be broken. The mystic chords which proceeding form so many battle fields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation.

Here's Lincoln's revision of Seward's revision:

I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

And that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, both political and personal, between the two men.   I think it's also a testimony to the power of revision and of collaborative writing.

(I found this information in Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, pages 324 - 326.)






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Box Elder
The Cassandra Pages
Clumps and Voids
Coyote Mercury
Crack Skull Bob
Creature of the Shade
Couch Trip
Dialogues with Silence
Dick Jones's Patteran Pages
Every Day and Every Night

Everything Feeds Process

Feathers of Hope
Fifty-Two: Weekly Poems
Finding Time for God
Fragments from Floyd
Fr. Scott & Co. Ask Some New Qs
Heraclitean Fire

Hoarded Ordinaries
Idiot Dreams
In a Dark Time
Inner Light, Radiant Life
Iron Monkey
Ivy Is Here
Listening After Dark
Marcia Bonta
The Middlewesterner
My Gorgeous Somewhere
Not Native Fruit
On the Slow Train
Open Reading
Paula's House of Toast
(p) (b)
Planting Words
The Rain in My Purse
Sage Said So
Shadow Cabinet
Shadows and Symbols
Simply Wait
Spring in the Road
Stony Moss
Tasting Rhubarb
3rd House Journal
The Truth about Lies
Two Dishes but to One Table
Velveteen Rabbi
Verbal Privilege
Very Like a Whale
Via Negativa
Voice Alpha
Walking with Celebi
Whale Sound
WMC Is Now Here