Anyone who has attended a flea market or sorted through the items of someone's estate may have uncovered what appears to be an original document signed by Abraham Lincoln. Typically, callers ask about the "missing" copy of the Gettysburg Address, hoping that they have it. But there are many facsimile copies of Lincoln documents that remain to be discovered in trunks, behind framed pictures, within the pages of a book or some other unusual place. Most people are familiar with the word fax. It is the electronic image of a document that is still a common way of sending and receiving information. Before faxes existed printers created facsimiles-- an exact copy or reproduction of a document. Facsimiles of Lincoln documents began to appear during Lincoln's life and continue to this day. The following illustrations represent some of the most common facsimiles that people inquire about.
Lincoln Never Said That
By Thomas F. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Anyone who has glanced at a cereal box, herbal tea package, inspirational book, or restaurant place mat has probably encountered a Lincoln quotation that rings hollow. Lincoln is often quoted and misquoted by public officials and celebrities. Members of Congress have access to researchers at the Library of Congress to keep right with Lincoln's words. But even this resource cannot keep spurious Lincoln's quotations from being uttered by members of Congress.
The authoritative reference work of Lincoln's letters and speeches is the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, compiled and published by the Abraham Lincoln Association. Fast approaching its golden anniversary, the Collected Works reflects both the strengths and weaknesses of documentary editing in its infancy. While new Lincoln documents have been discovered, there has never been a serious attempt to locate all the letters written to Lincoln. Moreover, technology now allows for placing a color image of the original documents on a database with the transcriptions, allowing for a comparison of the original text with the transcribed text. All of these features will comprise a new more comprehensive and authoritative edition, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, being undertaken by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
One might well ask, "What difference does it make if he did or didn't say this?" It makes a big difference to researchers trying to understand the past. Separating authentic words, reflecting a historical actor's thinking on a topic, from inauthentic or attributed words, reflecting the thinking of someone other than the historical actor, is significant in obtaining a clear understanding of the past. Many of the spurious quotations are so modern in tone and character that most people will recognize that the words were devised to express and plead a special cause or interest. The idea of enlisting famous and admired historical actors from the past to advance a modern agenda is familiar. In tracking down when certain statements appeared, one can often tie it to a modern controversy or debate.
A greater problem is dealing with attributions. Individuals recollecting Lincoln's exact words began to appear immediately following his death. Perhaps the most accessible source of these recollected statements is found in Carl Sandburg's six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln. Recollected words cannot be dismissed out of hand because most of the informants knew Lincoln or are part of an oral tradition going back to Lincoln. Don and Virginia Fehrenbacher's Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln (Stanford, 1996) offer the most extensive and informed discussion of the promise, problems and pitfalls in using recollections.
Finally, this list is only a beginning. It is incomplete and will be updated. Some of the items listed have a link to a more thorough discussion of the origins and evolution of the quote.
1. Allegedly written to Thomas Elkins on November 21, 1864:
"We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war, which has cost a vast treasure of blood and money, is almost over. But I see in the future a crisis approaching which fills me with anxiety. As a result of the war, corporations have become enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow. The money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its rule by preying upon the prejudice of the people, until all wealth is concentrated in a few hands, and the republic destroyed. I feel at this time more anxiety for the future of my country than at any time in the past, even in the midst of war."
2. Quoted by Senator Trent Lott on Meet the Press, March 22, 1998
"I'm a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, the people can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts."
3. Allegedly written to Colonel Edmund "Dick" Taylor sometime in December, 1864:
"I have long determined to make public the origins of the greenback and tell the world that it is one of Dick Taylor's creations. You had always been friendly to me, and when troublous times fell on us, and my shoulders, though broad and willing, were weak, and myself surrounded by such circumstances and such people that I knew not whom to trust, then I said in my extremity, 'I will send for Col. Taylor; he will know what to do.' I think it was in January 1862, on or about the 16th, that I did so. You came, and I said to you, 'What can we do?' Said you, 'Why, issue Treasury notes bearing no interest, printed on the best banking paper. Issue enough to pay off the Army expenses, and declare it legal tender.' Chase thought it a hazardous thing, but we finally accomplished it, and gave to the people of this Republic the greatest blessing they ever had-their own paper to pay their own debts, and I take great pleasure in making it known. How many times have I laughed at you telling me plainly that I was too lazy to be anything but a lawyer."
4. A popular undated letter found on internet sites that allegedly was written to the headmaster of a school in which one of Lincoln's sons was studying:
"My son will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero; that for every selfish politician, there is a dedicated leader. Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend.
It will take time, I know; but teach him if you can, that a dollar earned is of far more value than five found.
Teach him to learn to lose and also to enjoy winning, steer him away from envy, if you can.
Teach him the secret of quiet laughter. Let him learn early that bullies are easiest to lick.
Teach him, if you can, the wonder of books…but also give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hillside.
In school, teach him it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat…
[Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong.]
Teach him to be gentle with [gentle] people and tough with the tough.
Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone is getting on the bandwagon.
Teach him to listen to all men; but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and take only the good that comes through.
Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad.
Teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him to scoff at cynics and to be beware of too much sweetness.
Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidders, but never to put a price on his heart and soul.
Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob…and to stand and fight if he thinks he's right.
Treat him gently; but do not cuddle him, because only the test of fire makes fine steel.
Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him always to have sublime faith in humankind.
This is a big order, but see what you can do. He is such a fine little fellow my son!"
5. Allegedly uttered by Lincoln although the occasion and the informant source remain undetermined:
"I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live in it so that his place will be proud of him."
6. The "Ten Points" appear every February 12 in newspaper ads honoring Abraham Lincoln. In fact, these aphorisms are from the pen of Reverend William John Henry Boetcker (1873-1962).
* You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
* 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 hatred.
* You cannot establish sound 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.
7. Unknown source:
"Well, for those who like that sort of thing, I should think it is just about the sort of thing they would like."
8. Cited by Douglas MacArthur in 1950 speech after his release as commander of the United Nations forces in Korea. It is actually from a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:
" To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men."
9. Attributed to Lincoln in a Lutheran temperance pamphlet circa 1948. It is actually from a temperance address of the Reverend James Smith, Abraham Lincoln's friend and minister at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois.
"The liquor traffic is a cancer in society, eating out its vitals and threatening destruction, and all attempts to regulate it will aggravate the evil. There must be no attempt to regulate the cancer; it must be eradicated, not a root must be left behind, for until this is done, all classes must continue in danger of becoming victims of strong drink."
10. Undoubtedly the most famous questioned utterance of Abraham Lincoln allegedly part of a speech delivered in Clinton, Illinois, September, 1858:
"You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."