Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Quotations



Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States and led the country during the American Civil War.

Sourced

  • Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.

  • These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people, and now that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people's money to settle the quarrel.
    • Speech to Illinois legislature, (January 1837); This is "Lincoln's First Reported Speech", found in the Sangamo Journal (28 January 1837) according to McClure's Magazine (March 1896); also in Lincoln's Complete Works (1905) ed. by Nicolay and Hay, Vol. 1, p. 24.

  • I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, and for this reason; I can never be satisfied with anyone who would be blockhead enough to have me.
    • Letter to Mrs. Orville H. Browning (1 April 1838)

  • I believe it is an established maxim in morals that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false, is guilty of falsehood; and the accidental truth of the assertion, does not justify or excuse him.
    • Letter to Allen N. Ford (11 August 1846), reported in Roy Prentice Basler, ed., Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings (1990 [1946]).


  • Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, — "I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't."
    To provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.
    • Letter, while US Congressman, to his friend and law-partner William H. Herndon, opposing the Mexican-American War (15 February 1848)

  • The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil, than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost every thing, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.
    • Speech in the House of Representatives (20 June 1848)

  • Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.
    • Speech in the House of Representatives (20 June 1848)

  • The way for a young man to rise, is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that any body wishes to hinder him.
    • Letter to William H Herndon (10 July 1848)

  • The better part of one's life consists of his friendships.
    • Letter to Joseph Gillespie (13 July 1849)

  • The Autocrat of all the Russias will resign his crown, and proclaim his subjects free republicans sooner than will our American masters voluntarily give up their slaves.
    • Letter to George Robertson (15 August 1855)

  • You enquire where I now stand. That is a disputed point. I think I am a whig; but others say there are no whigs, and that I am an abolitionist. When I was at Washington I voted for the Wilmot Proviso as good as forty times, and I never heard of any one attempting to unwhig me for that. I now do more than oppose the extension of slavery.
    I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be take pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].
    • Letter to longtime friend and slave-holder Joshua F. Speed (24 August 1855)

  • If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already. It is but a small matter whether you read with anyone or not. I did not read with anyone. Get the books, and read and study them till you understand them in their principal features; and that is the main thing. It is of no consequence to be in a large town while you are reading. I read at New Salem, which never had three hundred people living in it. The books, and your capacity for understanding them, are just the same in all places.... Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing.
    • Letter to Isham Reavis (5 November 1855)

  • We live in the midst of alarms; anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read.
    • Speech at Bloomington (29 May 1856)

  • Will springs from the two elements of moral sense and self-interest.
    • Speech at Springfield, Illinois (26 June 1857)

  • Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man, this race and that race and the other race being inferior and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.
    • Address to Chicago Abolitionists (10 July 1858); quoted in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 501

  • I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.
    • First Debate with Stephen Douglas in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of the 1858 campaign for the US Senate, at Ottawa, Illinois (21 August 1858). Lincoln later quoted himself and repeated this statement in his first Inaugural Address (4 March 1861) to emphasize that any acts of secession were over-reactions to his election. During the war which followed his election he eventually declared the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in those states in rebellion against the union, arguably as a war measure rather than as an entirely political or moral initiative.

  • With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.
    • First debate with Stephen Douglas Ottawa, Illinois, (21 August 1858)

  • I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. ... And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.
    • Fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate (18 September 1858)

  • I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes.
    • Fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate (18 September 1858).

  • It is the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, "You toil and work and earn bread, and I'll eat it." No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.
    • Seventh and Last Joint Debate with Steven Douglas, at Alton, Illinois (15 October 1858)

  • Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.
    • Letter to Henry L Pierce and others (6 April 1859)

  • Understanding the spirit of our institutions to aim at the elevation of men, I am opposed to whatever tends to degrade them.
    • Letter to Dr. Theodore Canisius (17 May 1859)

  • Negro equality! Fudge!! How long, in the government of a God, great enough to make and maintain this Universe, shall there continue to be knaves to vend, and fools to gulp, so low a piece of demagougeism as this?
    • Fragments: Notes for Speeches, September 1859, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953) Vol. III; No transcripts or reports exist indicating that he ever actually used this expression in any of his speeches.

  • We know, Southern men declare that their slaves are better off than hired laborers amongst us. How little they know, whereof they speak! There is no permanent class of hired laborers amongst us...Free labor has the inspiration of hope; pure slavery has no hope.
    • Fragmentary manuscript of a speech on free labor (17 September 1859?)

  • An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of property in a slave is not "distinctly and expressly affirmed" in it.
    • Address at Cooper Union (27 February 1860)

  • Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored — contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man — such as a policy of "don't care" on a question about which all true men do care — such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance — such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.
    • Address at Cooper Union (27 February 1860)

  • Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
    • Address at Cooper Union (27 February 1860)

  • And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic or democracy — a government of the people by the same people — can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes.
    • Address to Congress (4 July 1861)

  • They have seen in his round, jolly fruitful face, post-offices, land-offices, marshalships and cabinet-appointments, charge-ships and foreign missions, bursting out in wonderful exuberance, ready to be laid hold of by their greedy hands. Nobody has ever expected me to be president. In my poor, lean lank face nobody has ever seen that any cabbages were sprouting.
    • Speech in Springfield, Illinois (17 July 1858), referring to Stephen Douglas. Quoted in Charles Sumner (1861), The Promises of the Declaration of Independence.

  • Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them.
    • Letter to Thurlow Weed (15 March 1865), reproduced in Lord Charnwood (1916), Abraham Lincoln: A Biography

  • This is essentially a people's contest. On the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men — to lift artificial weights from their shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance in the race of life. Yielding to partial and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend.
    • Address to Congress (4 July 1861)

  • Our popular government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it our people have already settled — the successful establishing and the successful administering of it. One still remains — its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it. It is now for them to demonstrate to the world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion; that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided, there can be no successful appeal back to bullets... Such will be a great lesson of peace: teaching men that what they cannot take by election, neither can they take it by war; teaching all the folly of being the beginners of a war.
    • Address to Congress (4 July 1861)

  • It was with the deepest regret that the Executive found the duty of employing the war-power, in defence of the government, forced upon him. He could but perform this duty, or surrender the existence of the government. No compromise, by public servants, could, in this case, be a cure; not that compromises are not often proper, but that no popular government can long survive a marked precedent, that those who carry an election, can only save the government from immediate destruction, by giving up the main point, upon which the people gave the election. The people themselves, and not their servants, can safely reverse their own deliberate decisions. As a private citizen, the Executive could not have consented that these institutions shall perish; much less could he, in betrayal of so vast, and so sacred a trust, as these free people had confided to him. He felt that he had no moral right to shrink; nor even to count the chances of his own life, in what might follow. In full view of his great responsibility, he has, so far, done what he has deemed his duty. You will now, according to your own judgment, perform yours. He sincerely hopes that your views, and your action, may so accord with his, as to assure all faithful citizens, who have been disturbed in their rights, of a certain, and speedy restoration to them, under the Constitution, and the laws. And having thus chosen our course, without guile, and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear, and with manly hearts.
    • Address to Congress (4 July 1861)

  • I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we can not hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland.

  • It has been said that one bad general is better than two good ones, and the saying is true if taken to mean no more than that an army is better directed by a single mind, though inferior, than by two superior ones at variance and cross-purposes with each other.
    • State of the Union Address (3 December 1861)

  • Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits.
    • First State of the Union Address (3 December 1861)

  • The severest justice may not always be the best policy.
    • Veto message, eventually not executed, written as a response to the Second Confiscation Act passed by Congress. (17 July 1862)
    • The Emancipation Proclamation, by John Hope Franklin, Doubleday Anchor Books, New York, NY, 1963, page 19

  • I am a patient man — always willing to forgive on the Christian terms of repentance; and also to give ample time for repentance. Still I must save this government if possible.

  • You and I are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other races. Whether it be right or wrong, I need not discuss; but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think. Your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living amongst us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word, we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.
    • Statement to the Deputation of Free Negroes, 14 August 1862
    • The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Baler, Rutgers University Press, 1953, Vol. V, page 371

  • My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

  • May our children and our children's children to a thousand generations, continue to enjoy the benefits conferred upon us by a united country, and have cause yet to rejoice under those glorious institutions bequeathed us by Washington and his compeers.
    • Second Speech at Frederick, Maryland (4 October 1862)

  • In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free —honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.
    • Annual Message to Congress (1 December 1862)

  • The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall our selves, and then we shall save our country. Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.
    • Annual Message to Congress (1 December 1862)


  • Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit: That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom. That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.

  • And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons. And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages. And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service. And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
    • Emancipation Proclamation (1 January 1863)

  • Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories.
    • Letter to Major General Joseph Hooker (26 January 1863)

  • We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
    • Upon proclaiming a National Fast Day (30 March 1863)

  • The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name — liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names — liberty and tyranny.
    • Address in Baltimore, Maryland (18 April 1864)

  • That some should be rich, shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.
    • Reply to New York Workingmen's Democratic Republican Association (21 March 1864)

  • I do not allow myself to suppose that either the Convention or the League have concluded to decide that I am either the greatest or the best man in America; but, rather, they have concluded that it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river.
    • Interview with a delegation of the National Republican League during the Republican Convention (9 June 1864). Reproduced in Joseph Hartwell Barrett (1865) Life of Abraham Lincoln

  • I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.
    • Quoted in The Lexington Observer & Reporter (16 June 1864)

  • Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.
    • Letter to Edwin Stanton (14 July 1864). See John Hay (1890), Abraham Lincoln: A History

  • In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book.
    • Words on being presented with a Bible, reported in the Washington Daily Morning Chronicle (8 September 1864)

  • Dear Madam, I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom. Yours, very sincerely and respectfully, Abraham Lincoln
    • Letter to Mrs. Bixby in Boston (21 November 1864). Some scholars suggest that John Hay, a secretary of President Lincoln's, actually wrote this letter. The Files of the war department were inaccurate Mrs. Bixby lost two sons.


  • I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly, those who desire it for others. When I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.
    • Statement to an Indiana Regiment passing through Washington (17 March 1865); The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln Volume VIII

  • I propose now closing up by requesting you play a certain piece of music or a tune. I thought "Dixie" one of the best tunes I ever heard... I had heard our adversaries over the way had attempted to appropriate it. I insisted yesterday that we had fairly captured it... I presented the question to the Attorney-General, and he gave his opinion that it is our lawful prize... I ask the Band to give us a good turn upon it.
    • At the end of the Civil War, asking that a military band play “Dixie" (10 April 1865) as quoted in Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy (1962) by Hans Nathan. Variant account: "I have always thought "Dixie" one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it... I now request the band to favor me with its performance."

  • Well, I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.
    • Quoted in a contemporary issue of the New York Herald, in response to allegations his most successful general drank too much.

  • Did Stanton say I was a damned fool? Then I dare say I must be one, for Stanton is generally right and he always says what he means.
    • As quoted in Lincoln; An Account of his Personal Life, Especially of its Springs of Action as Revealed and Deepened by the Ordeal of War (1922) by Nathaniel Wright Stephenson

  • I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.
    • As quoted in Costs of Administering Reparation for Work Injuries in Illinois (1952) by Alfred Fletcher Conard, p. 28

  • It never occurs to some politicians that Lincoln is worth imitating as well as quoting.
    • Author unknown, quoted in 20,000 Quips & Quotes (1996) by Evan Esar

The Lyceum Address (1838)

The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions : Lincoln's address to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois (27 January 1838)

  • In the great journal of things happening under the sun, we, the American People, find our account running, under date of the nineteenth century of the Christian era. — We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings.

  • At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? — Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! — All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
    At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

  • I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.

  • When men take it in their heads to-day, to hang gamblers, or burn murderers, they should recollect, that, in the confusion usually attending such transactions, they will be as likely to hang or burn some one who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is; and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of to-morrow, may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them by the very same mistake. And not only so; the innocent, those who have ever set their faces against violations of law in every shape, alike with the guilty, fall victims to the ravages of mob law; and thus it goes on, step by step, till all the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals, are trodden down, and disregarded.

  • But all this even, is not the full extent of the evil. — By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit, are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint, but dread of punishment, they thus become, absolutely unrestrained. — Having ever regarded Government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations; and pray for nothing so much, as its total annihilation.

  • There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.

  • That our government should have been maintained in its original form from its establishment until now, is not much to be wondered at. It had many props to support it through that period, which now are decayed, and crumbled away. Through that period, it was felt by all, to be an undecided experiment; now, it is understood to be a successful one.


  • It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them. The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot. Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would inspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon? — Never! Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. — It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.
    • Often the portion of this passage on "Towering genius..." is quoted without any mention or acknowledgment that Lincoln was speaking of the need to sometimes hold the ambitions of such genius in check, when individuals aim at their own personal aggrandizement rather than the common good.

  • From the force of circumstances, the basest principles of our nature, were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty. But this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the circumstances that produced it.

  • Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence. — Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON.
    Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

Speech at Peoria, Illinois (1854)

Online text Speech at Peoria, Illinois, in Reply to Senator Douglas (16 October 1854); published in The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (1894) Vol. 2

  • When Southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery than we are, I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists, and that it is very difficult to get rid of it in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land. But a moment's reflection would convince me that whatever of high hope (as I think there is) there may be in this in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery at any rate, yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals. My own feelings will not admit of this, and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of whites will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment is not the sole question, if indeed it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot then make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted, but for their tardiness in this I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South.

  • "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." At the hazard of being thought one of the fools of this quotation, I meet that argument — I rush in — I take that bull by the horns. I trust I understand and truly estimate the right of self-government. My faith in the proposition that each man should do precisely as he pleases with all which is exclusively his own lies at the foundation of the sense of justice there is in me. I extend the principle to communities of men as well as to individuals. I so extend it because it is politically wise, as well as naturally just: politically wise in saving us from broils about matters which do not concern us. Here, or at Washington, I would not trouble myself with the oyster laws of Virginia, or the cranberry laws of Indiana. The doctrine of self-government is right, — absolutely and eternally right, — but it has no just application as here attempted. Or perhaps I should rather say that whether it has such application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, in that case he who is a man may as a matter of self-government do just what he pleases with him.
    But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent a total destruction of self-government to say that he too shall not govern himself. When the white man governs himself, that is self-government; but when he governs himself and also governs another man, that is more than self-government — that is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that "all men are created equal," and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another.

  • Judge Douglas frequently, with bitter irony and sarcasm, paraphrases our argument by saying: "The white people of Nebraska are good enough to govern themselves, but they are not good enough to govern a few miserable negroes!"
    Well! I doubt not that the people of Nebraska are and will continue to be as good as the average of people elsewhere. I do not say the contrary. What I do say is that no man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent. I say this is the leading principle, the sheet-anchor of American republicanism. Our Declaration of Independence says: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
    I have quoted so much at this time merely to show that, according to our ancient faith, the just powers of governments are derived from the consent of the governed. Now the relation of master and slave is pro tanto a total violation of this principle. The master not only governs the slave without his consent, but he governs him by a set of rules altogether different from those which he prescribes for himself. Allow all the governed an equal voice in the government, and that, and that only, is self-government.

  • Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man's nature — opposition to it, in his love of justice. These principles are an eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision so fiercely, as slavery extension brings them, shocks, and throes, and convulsions must ceaselessly follow. Repeal the Missouri Compromise — repeal all compromises — repeal the Declaration of Independence — repeal all past history, you still can not repeal human nature. It still will be the abundance of man's heart, that slavery extension is wrong; and out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth will continue to speak.

The House Divided speech (1858)

Speech at the Republican State Convention, Springfield, Illinois, accepting the Republican nomination for US Senate, (16 June 1858)

  • If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.
    We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.
    Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.
    In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

  • "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.
    • In this famous statement Lincoln is quoting the response of Jesus Christ. This term's origin comes from the Bible.

(Matthew 12:25). 'And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand'.
  • Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.
    Have we no tendency to the latter condition?
    Let any one who doubts, carefully contemplate that now almost complete legal combination — piece of machinery so to speak — compounded of the Nebraska doctrine, and the Dred Scott decision.

  • The new year of 1854 found slavery excluded from more than half the States by State Constitutions, and from most of the national territory by congressional prohibition.
    Four days later, commenced the struggle, which ended in repealing that congressional prohibition.
    This opened all the national territory to slavery, and was the first point gained.
    This necessity had not been overlooked; but had been provided for, as well as might be, in the notable argument of "squatter sovereignty," otherwise called "sacred right of self government," which latter phrase, though expressive of the only rightful basis of any government, was so perverted in this attempted use of it as to amount to just this: That if any one man, choose to enslave another, no third man shall be allowed to object.

  • Under the Dred Scott decision, "squatter sovereignty" squatted out of existence, tumbled down like temporary scaffolding — like the mould at the foundry served through one blast and fell back into loose sand — helped to carry an election, and then was kicked to the winds.

  • The several points of the Dred Scott decision, in connection with Senator Douglas's "care-not" policy, constitute the piece of machinery, in its present state of advancement. This was the third point gained. The working points of that machinery are: —
    First, that no negro slave, imported as such from Africa, and no descendant of such slave, can ever be a citizen of any State, in the sense of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States. This point is made in order to deprive the negro, in every possible event, of the benefit of that provision of the United States Constitution, which declares that: "The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States."
    Second, that "subject to the Constitution of the United States, " neither Congress nor a Territorial legislature can exclude slavery from any United States Territory. This point is made in order that individual men may fill up the Territories with slaves, without danger of losing them as property, and thus to enhance the chances of permanency to the institution through all the future.

  • Auxiliary to all this, and working hand in hand with it, the Nebraska doctrine, or what is left of it, is to educate and mold public opinion, at least Northern public opinion, not to care whether slavery is voted down or voted up. This shows exactly where we now are; and partially, also, whither we are tending.
    It will throw additional light on the latter, to go back, and run the mind over the string of historical facts already stated. Several things will now appear less dark and mysterious than they did when they were transpiring. The people were to be left "perfectly free," subject only to the Constitution. What the Constitution had to do with it, outsiders could not then see. Plainly enough now, it was an exactly fitted niche, for the Dred Scott decision to afterward come in, and declare the perfect free freedom of the people to be just no freedom at all. Why was the amendment, expressly declaring the right of the people, voted down? Plainly enough now: the adoption of it would have spoiled the niche for the Dred Scott decision.

  • We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places, and by different workmen — Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance — and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly matte the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different l pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too few, — not omitting even scaffolding — or, if a single piece be lacking, we see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared yet to bring such piece in — in such a case we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first blow was struck.

  • While the opinion of the court, by Chief-Justice Taney, in the Dred Scott case and the separate opinions of all the concurring judges, expressly declare that the Constitution of the United States neither permits Congress nor a Territorial legislature to exclude slavery from any United States Territory, they all omit to declare whether or not the same Constitution permits a State, or the people of a State, to exclude it.

  • Such a decision is all that slavery now lacks of being alike lawful in all the States. Welcome, or unwelcome, such decision is probably coming, and will soon be upon us, unless the power of the present political dynasty shall be met and overthrown. We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free, and we shall awake to the reality instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State. To meet and overthrow the power of that dynasty is the work now before all those who would prevent that consummation. This is what we have to do. How can we best do it ?

  • There are those who denounce us openly to their own friends and yet whisper us softly, that Senator Douglas is the aptest instrument there is with which to effect that object. ... They remind us that he is a great man, and that the largest of us are very small ones. Let this be granted. But "a living dog is better than a dead lion." Judge Douglas, if not a dead lion, for this work, is at least a caged and toothless one. How can he oppose the advances of slavery? He does not care anything about it. His avowed mission is impressing the "public heart" to care nothing about it. ... For years he has labored to prove it a sacred right of white men to take negro slaves into the new Territories. Can he possibly show that it is less a sacred right to buy them where they can be bought cheapest? And unquestionably they can be bought cheaper in Africa than in Virginia. He has done all in his power to reduce the whole question of slavery to one of a mere right of property; and as such, how can he oppose the foreign slave trade — how can he refuse that trade in that "property" shall be "perfectly free" — unless he does it as a protection to the home production? And as the home producers will probably not ask the protection, he will be wholly without a ground of opposition.

  • Senator Douglas holds, we know, that a man may rightfully be wiser today than he was yesterday — that he may rightfully | change when he finds himself wrong. But can we, for that reason, run ahead, and infer that he will make any particular change, of which he, himself, has given no intimation?

  • Now, as ever, I wish not to misrepresent Judge Douglas's position, question his motives, or do aught that can be personally offensive to him. Whenever, if ever, he and we can come together on principle so that our cause may have assistance from his great ability, I hope to have interposed no adventitious obstacle. But clearly, he is not now with us — he does not pretend to be — he does not promise ever to be. Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by, its own undoubted friends — those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work — who do care for the result.

  • Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy. Did we brave all them to falter now? — now, when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered, and belligerent? The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail — if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise counsels may accelerate, or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later, the victory is sure to come.

First Inaugural Address (4 March 1861)


First Inaugural Address (4 March 1861)

  • I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this, and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them.

  • In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion -- no using of force against, or among the people anywhere.

  • This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.

  • Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?

  • While the people retain their virtue and vigilance, no administration, by any extreme of wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the government in the short space of four years.

  • Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.

  • 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 battlefield 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.

The Gettysburg Address (1863)

The Gettysburg Address (19 November 1863) Based on the signed "Bliss Copy"
  • Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

"If Slavery Is Not Wrong, Nothing Is Wrong" (1864)

Letter (4 April 1864) to Albert G. Hodges, editor of the Frankfort, Kentucky, Commonwealth (recounting their conversation of 26 March 1864). Manuscript at The Library of Congress; also in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VII, p. 281

  • I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power. I understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral question of slavery. I had publicly declared this many times, and in many ways. And I aver that, to this day, I have done no official act in mere deference to my abstract judgment and feeling on slavery. I did understand however, that my oath to preserve the constitution to the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government — that nation — of which that constitution was the organic law.

  • When, early in the war, Gen. Fremont attempted military emancipation, I forbade it, because I did not then think it an indispensable necessity. When a little later, Gen. Cameron, then Secretary of War, suggested the arming of the blacks, I objected, because I did not yet think it an indispensable necessity. When, still later, Gen. Hunter attempted military emancipation, I again forbade it, because I did not yet think the indispensable necessity had come. When, in March, and May, and July 1862 I made earnest, and successive appeals to the border states to favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation, and arming the blacks would come, unless averted by that measure. They declined the proposition; and I was, in my best judgment, driven to the alternative of either surrendering the Union, and with it, the Constitution, or of laying strong hand upon the colored element. I chose the latter. In choosing it, I hoped for greater gain than loss; but of this, I was not entirely confident. More than a year of trial now shows no loss by it in our foreign relations, none in our home popular sentiment, none in our white military force, — no loss by it any how or any where. On the contrary, it shows a gain of quite a hundred and thirty thousand soldiers, seamen, and laborers. These are palpable facts, about which, as facts, there can be no cavilling. We have the men; and we could not have had them without the measure.

  • And now let any Union man who complains of the measure, test himself by writing down in one line that he is for subduing the rebellion by force of arms; and in the next, that he is for taking these hundred and thirty thousand men from the Union side, and placing them where they would be but for the measure he condemns. If he can not face his case so stated, it is only because he can not face the truth.

  • I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.

Second Inaugural Address (1865)

Second Inaugural Address (4 March 1865)
  • Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came... Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes.


  • If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

  • With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Attributed

Soon after his death, Lincoln became popular as a "wise man" to whom quotations were attributed for the sake of attributing them. Quotations without a specific contemporary source should be viewed skeptically.

  • The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just; and it shall not deter me.
    • Quoted in funeral oration by Matthew Simpson (1865), attributed to Lincoln in 1839

  • If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.
    • Attributed in Evan Esar (1949), The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations

  • If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what's said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.
    • Quoted in Henry J. Raymond (1865), The Life and Public Service of Abraham Lincoln

  • I do not consider that I have ever accomplished anything without God; and if it is His will that I must die by the hand of an assassin, I must be resigned. I must do my duty as I see it, and leave the rest with God.
    • Quoted in Henry Clay Witney (1892), Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, arguing for Lincoln's religiosity

  • I care not much for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.
    • Attributed to Lincoln in Mark Gold (1998), Animal century . Also attributed to Rowland Hill in Henry Woodcock (1879), Wonders of Grace

  • I will study and get ready, and perhaps my chance will come.
    • Attributed in Laura Haddock (1931), Steps Upward in Personality

  • All through life, be sure and put your feet in the right place, and then stand firm.
    • Attributed in William M. Thayer (1882), The Pioneer Boy and How He Became President

  • He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.
    • Attributed in Frederick Trevor Hill (1906) Lincoln the Lawyer. Hill noted that he could find no record of whom Lincoln was insulting.

  • He only has the right to criticize who has the heart to help.
    • Attributed, for example, in Lewis J. Paper (1983), Brandeis. Previously quoted as merely a familiar saying.

  • I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.
    • Attributed in Everett McKinley Dirksen and Herbert V. Prochnow (1971), The Quotation Finder

  • I am not concerned that you fall; I am concerned that you arise.
    • Attributed in Deborah Gillan Straub (1996), Native North American Voices

  • I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.
    • Recollection by Gilbert J. Greene, described in Ferdinand C. Iglehart (1902), The Speaking Oak and Ervin S. Chapman (1917) Latest Light on Abraham Lincoln

  • I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.
    • No known source from Lincoln; previously attributed to Sigismund
      • Do I not effectually destroy my enemies, in making them my friends?
        • Sigismund as quoted in The Sociable Story-teller (1846)

  • I don't know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.
    • Quoted in Ida Tarbell (1896), The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln

  • I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.
    • Included in Francis T Miller's Portrait-Life of Lincoln (1910).

  • I want it said of me by those who knew me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.
    • Found in Melancthon Woolsey Stryker's Hamilton, Lincoln & Other Addresses (1896).

  • I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.
    • Attributed in Osborn Oldroyd (ed.) Lincoln Memorial (1882)

  • If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?
    • Attributed in Jean Dresden Grambs (1959), Abraham Lincoln Through the Eyes of High School Youth

  • Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
    • Proclamation of a National Fast-Day (30 March 1863)

  • It's my experience that folks who have no vices have generally very few virtues.
    • According to F B Carpenter's The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln (1867), Lincoln quoted this as having been said to him by a fellow-passenger in a stagecoach.

  • It is better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
    • Variously attributed to Lincoln, Elbert Hubbard, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin and Socrates

  • Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.
    • Attributed in Henry Louis Mencken (1942), A New Dictionary of Quotations

  • I have found that most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
    • Quoted in Orison Marden (1917), How to Get What You Want‎

  • Perhaps a man's character is like a tree, and his reputation like its character: the shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing.
    • Attributed in Daniel Kilham Dodge (1900) Abraham Lincoln: The Evolution of his Literary Style

  • So you are the little woman who caused this great war!

  • The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it.
    • Attributed in Tryon Edwards (1908), A Dictionary of Thoughts. Also attributed to Theodore Roosevelt in Samuel Fallows (1901), Life of William McKinley

  • The Lord prefers common-looking people. That is why he made so many of them.
    • Conversation with private secretary John Hay (23 December 1863), describing a dream Lincoln had that evening. See Hay (1890), Abraham Lincoln: A History

  • The only person who is a worse liar than a faith healer is his patient.
    • Quoted in Victor J. Stenger (1990), Physics and Psychics

  • To ease another's heartache is to forget one's own.
    • Quoted in a Edith A. Sawyer (1899) Mary Cameron

  • Well, for people that like that sort of thing, I think it is just about the sort of thing they would like.
    • Attributed to "an American President" in Ármin Vámbéry (1884), All the Year Round. The attribution to Lincoln is questioned in Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher (1996), Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln

  • What is to be, will be, and no prayers of ours can arrest the decree.
    • Quoted in D. M. Bennett (1876) The World's Sages, Thinkers and Reformers

  • When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.
    • Remark to law partner William Herndon, quoted in William Elroy Curtis (1902) Abraham Lincoln

  • You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.
    • Quoted in Vernon K. McLellan (2000) Wise Words and Quotes

  • You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.
    • Quoted in Herbert V. Prochnow (1955), Speaker's Book of Epigrams and Witticisms

  • I believe, if we take habitual drunkards as a class, their heads and their hearts will bear an advantageous comparison with those of any other class. There seems ever to have been a proneness in the brilliant and warm-blooded to fall into this vice.
    • Address to the Springfield Washingtonian Temperance Society (22 February 1842), quoted at greater length in John Carroll Power (1889) Abraham Lincoln: His Life, Public Services, Death and Funeral Cortege

  • I cannot bring myself to believe that any human being lives who would do me harm.
    • Remark to Gen. Edward H. Ripley (5 April 1865), recalled during Ripley's speech at the 41st annual meeting of the Reunion Society of Vermont Officers (1 November 1904)

  • As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.
    • Written speech fragment presented by to the Chicago Veterans Druggist's Association in 1906 by Judge James B. Bradwell, who claimed to have received it from Mary Todd Lincoln

Disputed

  • You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
    • This is probably the most famous of apparently apocryphal remarks attributed to Lincoln. Despite being cited variously as from an 1856 speech, or a September 1858 speech in Clinton, Illinois, there are no known contemporary records or accounts substantiating that he ever made the statement. The earliest known appearance is October 29, 1886 in the Milwaukee Daily Journal. It later appeared in the New York Times on August 26 and August 27, 1887. The saying was repeated several times in newspaper editorials later in 1887. In 1888 and, especially, 1889, the saying became commonplace, used in speeches, advertisements, and on portraits of Lincoln. In 1905 and later, there were attempts to find contemporaries of Lincoln who could recall Lincoln saying this. Historians have not, generally, found these accounts convincing. For more information see two articles in For the People: A Newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Association, "'You Can Fool All of the People' Lincoln Never Said That", by Thomas F. Schwartz (V. 5, #4, Winter 2003, p. 1) and "A New Look at 'You Can Fool All of the People'" by David B. Parker (V. 7, #3, Autumn 2005, p. 1); also the talk page. The statement has also sometimes been attributed to P. T. Barnum, although no references to this have been found from the nineteenth century.
    • Variants:
    • You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
    • You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Misattributed

  • My earlier views on the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.
    • Said to be in a letter to a Judge J. A. Wakefield, after the death of Lincoln's son William Wallace Lincoln in 1862, as cited in "Lincoln, the Freethinker" by atheist Joseph Lewis (1924), but historian Merrill Daniel Peterson on p. 227 of his Lincoln in American Memory (1994) states that the letter has never actually been produced to verify the statement, and no Judge Wakefield has been identified as a correspondent of Lincoln. The earliest publication of this quote yet located is in Views of Religion (1906) by atheist Rufus King Noyes, p. 473, but without any indication of its original source.

  • It will not do to investigate the subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to Infidelity.
    • Claimed by atheist Franklin Steiner, on p. 144. of one of his books to have appeared in Manford's Magazine but he never even gives a year for said magazines publication.

  • I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky!
    • See, for example, Albert D. Richardson (1865), The Secret Service, the Field, the Dungeon, and the Escape. The quotation is based on a comment by Rev. Moncure D. Conway about the progress of the Civil War.
      • It is evident that the worthy President would like to have God on his side: he must have Kentucky.
        • Moncure D. Conway (1862), The Golden Hour

  • To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.

  • America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
    • First attributed to Lincoln in 2002, this seems a paraphrase of a statement in the Lyceum address of 1838, while incorporating language used by Thomas E. Dewey (c. 1944), who said "By the same token labor unions can never be destroyed from the outside. They can only fail if they fail to lend their united support to full production in a free society".

  • Now, I say to you, my fellow-citizens, that in my opinion the signers of the Declaration had no reference to the negro whatever when they declared all men to be created equal. They desired to express by that phrase, white men, men of European birth and European descent, and had no reference either to the negro, the savage Indians, the Fejee, the Malay, or any other inferior and degraded race, when they spoke of the equality of men. One great evidence that such was their understanding, is to be found in the fact that at that time every one of the thirteen colonies was a slaveholding colony, every signer of the Declaration represented a slave-holding constituency, and we know that no one of them emancipated his slaves, much less offered citizenship to them when they signed the Declaration, and yet, if they had intended to declare that the negro was the equal of the white man, and entitled by divine right to an equality with him, they were bound, as honest men, that day and hour to have put their negroes on an equality with themselves.
    • Attributed at a few sites to a debate in Peoria, Illinois with Stephen Douglas on 16 October 1858. No historical record of such a debate actually exists, though there was a famous set of speeches by both in Peoria on 16 October 1854, but transcripts of Lincoln's speech on that date do not indicate that he made such a statement. It in fact comes from a speech made by Douglas in the third debate against Lincoln at Jonesboro, Illinois on 15 September 1858.

  • 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.

  • The money power preys upon the nation in times of peace and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes.

  • You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatreds. You cannot establish security on borrowed money. You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man's initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.
    • Actually a statement by William J. H. Boetcker known as "The Ten Cannots" (1916), this has often been misattributed to Lincoln since 1942 when a leaflet containing quotes by both men was published.

  • There is no room for two distinct races of white men in America, much less for two distinct races of whites and blacks. I can conceive of no greater calamity than the assimilation of the Negro into our social and political life as an equal... Within twenty years we can peacefully colonize the Negro in the tropics and give him our language, literature, religion, and system of government under conditions in which he can rise to the full measure of manhood. This he can never do here. We can never attain the ideal Union our fathers dreamed, with millions of an alien, inferior race among us, whose assimilation is neither possible nor desirable.
    • This is from a fictional speech by Lincoln which occurs in The Clansman : An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905) by Thomas Dixon, Jr.. On a some sites this has been declared to be something Lincoln said "soon after signing" the Emancipation Proclamation, but without any date or other indications of to whom it was stated, and there are no actual historical records of Lincoln ever saying this.

  • Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.
    • This was the lead sentence in an article "Democrats Usher in An Age of Treason" by conservative author J. Michael Waller in Insight magazine (23 December 2003) which a copyeditor http://factcheck.org/article415.htmlmistakenly put quotation marks around, making it seem a quote of Lincoln.


  • When I left Springfield I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, I do love Jesus.
    • This has been portrayed to have been Lincoln's "reply" to an unnamed Illinois clergyman when asked if he loved Jesus, as quoted in the The Lincoln Memorial Album — Immortelles (1882) edited by Osborn H. Oldroyd [New York: G.W. Carleton & Co. p. 366.
      • This incident must have appeared in print immediately after Lincoln's death, for I find it quoted in memorial addresses of May, 1865. Mr Oldroyd has endeavored to learn for me in what paper he found it and on whose authority it rests, but without result. He does not remember where he found it. It is inherently improbable, and rests on no adequate testimony. It ought to be wholly disregarded. The earliest reference I have found to the story in which Lincoln is alleged to have said to an unnamed Illinois minister, "I do love Jesus" is in a sermon preached in the Baptist Church of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, April 19, 1865, by Rev. W. W. Whitcomb, which was published in the Oshkosh Northwestern, April 21, 1865, and in 1907 issued in pamphlet form by John E. Burton.
        • William Eleazar Barton (1920) The Soul of Abraham Lincoln. Further discussion appears in They Never Said It (1989) by Paul F. Boller & John George, p. 91.

  • If you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.
    • This is attributed to Lincoln in the 1960 film adaptation of Pollyanna. In reality, it was fabricated by screenwriter and director David Swift, who had to have thousands of lockets bearing the false inscription recalled after Disney began selling them at Disneyland.

  • Money is the creature of law and creation of the original issue of money should be maintained as an exclusive monopoly of national government.… Democracy will rise superior to Money Power.
    • These remarks in support of a government-regulated money supply were written by Gerry McGeer, who presented them as his interpretation of what Lincoln believed.

      Quotes about Lincoln

      These are arranged alphabetically by author, followed by some of the more notable anonymous quotations about him.

      • The characteristic which struck me most was his superabundance of common sense. His power of managing men, of deciding and avoiding difficult questions, surpassed that of any man I ever met. A keen insight of human nature had been cultivated by the trials and struggles of his early life. He knew the people and how to reach them better than any man of his time. I heard him tell a great many stories, many of which would not do exactly for the drawing-room; but for the person he wished to reach, and the object he desired to accomplish with the individual, the story did more than any argument could have done.
        • Chauncey Depew, Testimony XXIV in Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time (1886) edited by Allen Thorndike Rice

      • In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color.

      • I assure you, that this inestimable memento of his Excellency will be retained in my possession while I live—an object of sacred interest—a token not merely of the kind consideraion in which I have reason to know that the President was pleased to hold me personally, but as an indication of his humane interest in the welfare of my whole race.
        • Frederick Douglass, Letter to Mary Todd Lincoln (17 August 1865)

      • Once he called upon General McClellan, and the President went over to the General's house — a process which I as­sure you has been reversed long since — and General McClellan decided he did not want to see the President, and went to bed.

        Lincoln's friends criticized him severely for allowing a mere General to treat him that way. And he said, "All I want out of General McClellan is a victory, and if to hold his horse will bring it, I will gladly hold his horse."

        • Dwight Eisenhower

      • Abraham Lincoln had a moral elevation most rare in a statesman, or indeed in any man.
        • William Gladstone, British statesman

      • If it wasn't for Abe Lincoln, I'd still be on the open market.

      • Now let it be written in history and on Mr. Lincoln's tombstone: "He died an unbeliever."
        • William H. Herndon, Abraham Lincoln's law partner in Springfield since 1844, on Lincoln's religion. Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life, 1896. Quoted in Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby, 2004.

      • Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

      • I went to the White House shortly after tea where I found "the original gorilla," about as intelligent as ever. What a specimen to be at the head of our affairs now!

      • Lincoln’s proclamation is even more important than the Maryland campaign. Lincoln is a sui generis figure in the annals of history. He has no initiative, no idealistic impetus, cothurnus, no historical trappings. He gives his most important actions always the most commonplace form. Other people claim to be "fighting for an idea," when it is for them a matter of square feet of land. Lincoln, even when he is motivated by, an idea, talks about "square feet." He sings the bravura aria of his part hesitantly, reluctantly and unwillingly, as though apologising for being compelled by circumstances "to act the lion." The most redoubtable decrees — which will always remain remarkable historical documents — flung by him at the enemy all look like, and are intended to look like, routine summonses sent by a lawyer to the lawyer of the opposing party, legal chicaneries, involved, hidebound actiones juris.

      • Lincoln marked the half-way post on the road to the sewers (in presidents).
        • Henry Louis Mencken

      • Ohio claims they are due a president as they haven't had one since Taft. Look at the United States, they have not had one since Lincoln.

      • If there is not the war, you don't get the great general; if there is not a great occasion, you don't get a great statesman; if Lincoln had lived in a time of peace, no one would have known his name.

      • There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen. Now he belongs to the ages.
        • Edwin M. Stanton, at Lincoln's death (15 April 1865). As quoted in Abraham Lincoln: A History (1890) by John George Nicolay and John Hay, p. 302. Though "Now he belongs to the ages" is by far the most accepted quotation of this remark, it is sometimes contended that he said "Now he belongs to the angels" but occurrences of this date back only a very few years. Stanton had originally opposed Lincoln, dubbing him "The Original Gorilla" because of his looks and frontier speech, but eventually grew to admire him.

      • We leave to some Emil Ludwig or his ilk the drawing of Abraham Lincoln's portrait with rosy little wings. Lincoln's significance lies in his not hesitating before the most severe means once they were found to be necessary in achieving a great historic aim posed by the development of a young nation. The question lies not even in which of the warring camps caused or itself suffered the greatest number of victims. History has different yardsticks for the cruelty of the Northerners and the cruelty of the Southerners in the Civil War. A slave-owner who through cunning and violence shackles a slave in chains, and a slave who through cunning or violence breaks the chains — let not the contemptible eunuchs tell us that they are equals before a court of morality!

      • He has a face like a hoosier Michael Angelo, so awful ugly it becomes beautiful, with its strange mouth, its deep-cut, criss-cross lines, and its doughnut complexion.
        • Walt Whitman
        • Note: Walt Whitman also wrote Oh captain my captain for Lincoln.

      • The cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth was to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg.


      • The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.
        • Attributed to the Chicago Times as their editorial following the Gettysburg Address, but never traced in that newspaper's archives

      • From time to time, life as a leader can look hopeless. To help you, consider a man who lived through this: Failed in business at age 31. Defeated for the legislature at 32. Again failed in business at 34. Sweetheart died at 35. Had a nervous breakdown at 36. Defeated in election at 38. Defeated for Congress at 43. Defeated for Congress at 46. Defeated for Congress at 48. Defeated for Senate at 55. Defeated for Vice President at 56. Defeated for Senate at 58. Elected President at age 60. This man was Abraham Lincoln.
        • Anonymous; these numbers are years in the 1800s, not ages of his life

      External links




      Documents at Project Gutenberg

      • Speeches and addresses

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      • The Writings of Abraham Lincoln

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      • Miscellany

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