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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fake Lincoln Quotations

The new Lincoln movie is probably going to trigger many articles, blog posts, and tweets about our 16th president.  And where there are Lincoln discussions, there will be fake Lincoln quotations.  Here are a few to watch out for:

Bound to be true: "I am not bound to win, but I'm bound to be true. I'm not bound to succeed, but I'm bound to live up to what light I have."  One of President Obama's speechwriters apparently fell for this one in March of 2010.  Allen Guelzo, a top Civil War historian, told me in an email:
This one is not only bogus, but so bogus that it doesn't even appear in that great compendium of Lincoln "sayings," Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher. It appears in none of the principal pre-1905 Lincoln biographies (Herndon, Lamon) or in other 'recollections' books (Henry Clay Whitney, A.T. Rice's compendium of reminiscences from 1884, Elizabeth Keckley). It sounds like a corruption of several comments Lincoln made about hewing to the `best light' he had and about keeping true to one `voice' within himself.
Fooling the people: "It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you may even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all the people all the time."  Lincoln was clever and folksy, but never said these words.

The "cannot" list:  One purported Lincoln quotation consists of a list of ten maxims starting, "You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.  You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong."  In his last major speech, at the 1992 GOP convention, President Reagan cited it -- as have many others on the right.  But as explains, the list originated with minister William John Henry Boetcker in 1916. We discuss this one in the textbook.

Enthroned corporations:  If the"cannot" list is a favorite of the right, as we note in the textbook, this one is a favorite of the left: 
I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless."
Populists concocted this one in the late 19th century, and Lincoln's private aide called it a "bald, unblushing forgery."  Not only did Lincoln never say these words, they were at odds with his thinking, as Andrew Ferguson explained a few years ago: "A corporate lawyer whose long and cunning labor on behalf of the railroads earned him a comfortable income, Lincoln was a vigorous champion of market capitalism, even when it drifted (as it tends to do) toward large concentrations of wealth."