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Lincoln Never Said These Life Lessons

Nov 29, 2017
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There is no doubt that Abraham Lincoln wrote or said some of the greatest quotes in American history. His entire Second Inaugural Address, for example, is one of the finest speeches ever given. The Gettysburg Address is of course immortal. And his “House Divided” speech stands as a brilliant summary of the slavery struggles facing our nation in the years leading up to the Civil War.

Unfortunately, there are also numerous “quotes” which have been attributed to Lincoln for many years, “quotes” which he surely did not say. Currently there is a popular web page called “7 Must Read Life Lessons From Abraham Lincoln.” It’s being “tweeted” on Twitter, linked to by many other sites, and even mentioned on a museum’s Facebook page.

The trouble is, that Abraham Lincoln said only two of the seven “quotes” given on the website. Some of these “quotes” attributed to Lincoln didn’t quite “ring true” with me, so I checked the most indispensable source available for things which Lincoln said or wrote.

The Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln consists of all the known writings, speeches, and quotes of Lincoln. The Abraham Lincoln Association published this 8-volume collection in 1953. Mr. Roy P. Basler and his staff spent five years transcribing Lincoln’s letters, notes, and other writings to produce this work. I own a set of the Collected Works but the website I linked to at the beginning of this paragraph provides excellent search capability on single words or phrases Lincoln wrote or spoke.

For example, one so-called “quote” presented on the “7 Must Read” site which Lincoln supposedly said is: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend four hours sharpening the axe.” Great advice, right? Preparation is key to success. Problem is, Abraham Lincoln never said any such thing. A simple search for “sharpening the axe” on the website of the Collected Works comes up empty.

I don’t mean this post to be an attack on the site which provides great life lessons, because they are indeed wonderful lessons for success in life. It’s just that Abraham Lincoln never said most of the quotes. (For the record, quotes #5 and #7 on the “7 Must Read” site are accurate)

Those of us who love history, be we professional scholars or amateur ones, need to guard against inaccuracies presented as “facts.” I feel it’s my job as an amateur Lincoln historian to alert the readers of this blog when bad Lincoln history shows up.

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