Fake Lincoln Quotes

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In his new book Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the Rich, Kevin Phillips fell for one of the numerous bogus Lincoln quotes that fill the literature on The Great Emancipator. The historian Paul Kennedy fell for it, too, in his review of the Phillips book in the New York Times.

The bogus quotation is: "The money power preys upon the nation in times of peace, and it conspires against it in times of adversity. It’s more despotic than monarchy. It’s more insolent than autocracy. It’s more selfish than bureaucracy…. Corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow…."

Phillips thought he could attach the moral authority of Lincoln to the theme of his book, but as historian Matthew Pinkser wrote on the website, History News Network, on June 3, the quote is nowhere in Lincoln’s collected works, and his official biographer called it "a bold, unblushing forgery."

That same statement is true of a great many other supposed Lincoln quotations in the literature. In his 1989 book, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions (Oxford University Press), Paul F. Boller, Jr., devotes the better part of a chapter to fake Lincoln quotes.

For decades, scholars and journalists have been quoting Lincoln as saying, "All that loves labor serves the nation. All that harms labor is treason to America." Labor unions have repeated this quotation endlessly and have published it hundreds of times, but "there is no record of his ever having uttered these words," concludes Boller.

Lincoln was also supposedly an anti-prohibition crusader with the quote, "Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance…for it…attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes." "There is no record" of this pronouncement, according to Boller; an anti-prohibition leader from Georgia apparently fabricated the quotation.

"If I ever get a chance to hit that thing, I’ll hit it hard," Lincoln supposedly said about slavery. But, writes Boller, "he never made the above statement."

Some of Lincoln’s closest friends claimed that he never became a believer, yet for decades he has been quoted as saying, "I have never known a worthwhile man who became too big for his boots or his Bible." But "There is no good evidence that he ever said this…" Nor did he ever say that, after visiting the graves at Gettysburg, "I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, I do love Jesus!" Another fake, as Boller proves.

Even though Lincoln was the highest paid trial lawyer in Illinois when he was elected, and had long been essentially a lobbyist for the Northern plutocracy, folklore has it that he was "a man of the people." Thus, generations of school children have been subjected to the fake quotation that "God must have loved the common people, he made so many of them." There is no evidence "that Lincoln ever said anything of the kind," says Boller.

Lincoln supposedly warned that "If this nation is to be destroyed, it will be destroyed from within; if it is not destroyed from within, it will live for all time to come." Another fake Lincoln quote.

Lincoln clearly opposed racial equality on many occasions, such as during the August 21, 1858, debate in Ottawa, Illinois with Stephan Douglas, where he said: "I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races…. I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position." Most Americans seem totally unfamiliar with this actual quotation, and many others just like it. They seem instead to be of the opinion that the following quotation is Lincoln’s real attitude on race: "The restoration of the Rebel States to the Union must rest upon the principle of civil and political equality of both races…." Again, there is no record anywhere of Lincoln ever having said this, says Boller.

Nor did Lincoln ever say, "I know there is a God and that He hates injustice and slavery," another fake quotation that generations of schoolchildren have been subjected to.

There is a whole string of "You cannot . . ." quotations that fill the Lincoln literature that Boller also proves as fakes. Lincoln supposedly said that you cannot: bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift; strengthen the weak by weakening the strong; help strong men by tearing down big men; help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer; further the brotherhood of man by encouraging class hatred; help the poor by destroying the rich; establish sound security on borrowed money; keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn; build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative; and help men permanently by doing for them what they could…do for themselves."

This is all fine advice, but as Boller shows, all of these statements have been exposed "as forgeries."

Lincoln never even said "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you can not fool all the people all the time." It "cannot be found in any of Lincoln’s printed addresses." Boller say’s it’s a fake, but Lincoln scholars still repeat it because, they say, it sounds so "Lincolnesque."

The Lincoln Myth is one of the ideological cornerstones of the centralized state, which is why these and other fables, myths, and fake Lincoln quotes will continue to be repeated.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of the LRC #1 bestseller, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House, 2002) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.

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