Abraham Lincoln Quotes

If the good people, in their wisdom, shall see fit to keep me in the background, I have been to familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.

9th March, 1832. Address at New Salem.

Politicians [are] a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people, and who, to say the most of them, are, taken as a mass, at least one long step removed from honest men. I say this with the greater freedom because, being a politician myself, none can regard it as personal.

11th January, 1837. Speech in the Illinois Legislature.

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.

27th January, 1838. Address at the Young Men’s Lyceum, Springfield, Illinois.

There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.

27th January, 1838. Address at the Young Men’s Lyceum, Springfield, Illinois.

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better.

12th January, 1848. Speech in the House of Representatives.

No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.

16th October, 1854. Speech at Peoria, Illinois.

I hate [slavery] because it deprives the republican example of its just influence in the world – enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites – causes, the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity.

16th October, 1854. Speech at Peoria, Illinois.

The ballot is stronger than the bullet.

19th May, 1856. Speech at Bloomington, Illinois.

“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.

16th June, 1858. Speech at the Republican State Convention, Springfield, Illinois.

Nobody has ever expected me to be President. In my poor, lean, lank face nobody has ever seen that any cabbages were sprouting out.

17th July, 1858. Second campaign speech against Douglas. Springfield, Illinois.

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.

1st August 1858. Cited from Collected Works [1953] Vol 2, pp. 532

When … you have succeeded in dehumanizing the Negro; when you have put him down and made it forever impossible for him to be but as the beasts of the field; when you have extinguished his soul and placed him where the ray of hope is blown out in darkness like that which broods over the spirits of the damned, are you quite sure the demon you have roused will not turn and rend you?

11th September, 1858. Speech given at Edwardsville, Illinois.

This is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between 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 kinds. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself.

15th October, 1858. Reply in the seventh (last) debate, Alton, Illinois.

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.

6th April, 1859. Letter to H.L. Pierce, et al.

Public opinion in this country is everything.

16th September, 1859. Speech at Columbus, Ohio.

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

30th September, 1859. Address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in Milwaukee.

Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.

27th February, 1860. Address at Copper Union, New York.

What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?

27th February, 1860.

My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well.

11th February, 1861. Farewell Address in Springfield, Illinois.

If we do not make common cause to save the good old ship of the Union on this voyage, nobody will have a chance to pilot her on another voyage.

15th February, 1861. Speech in Cleveland, Ohio.

I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations, and with no purpose to construe theConstitution or laws by any hypercritical rules.

4th March, 1861. First Inaugural Address.

It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.

4th March, 1861. First Inaugural Address.

If by the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might in a moral point of view justify revolution; certainly would if such right were a vital one.

4th March, 1861. First Inaugural Address.

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.

4th March, 1861. First Inaugural Address.

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?

4th March, 1861. First Inaugural Address.

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.

4th March, 1861. First Inaugural Address.

I think the necessity of being ready increases. Look it up.

8th April, 1861. Letter (in its entirety) to Andrew G. Curtin, Governor of Pennslyvania.

This is essentially a people’s contest … 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 artifical weights from all 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.

4th July, 1861. Message to Special Session of Congress.

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 worthy of protection as any other rights.

3rd December, 1861. First State of the Union Address.

It is called the Army of the Potomac but it is only McClellan’s bodyguard … If McClellan is not using the army, I should like to borrow it for a while.

9th April, 1862. Speech in Washington D.C.

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 do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.

22nd August, 1862. Letter to Horace Greeley.

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. … I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men, everywhere, could be free.

22nd August, 1862. Letter to Horace Greeley.

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.

22nd September, 1862. Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

[I feel] somewhat like the boy in Kentucky who stubbed his toe while running to see his sweetheart. The boy said he was too big to cry, and far too badly hurt to laugh.

22nd November, 1862. Reply to his feelings on the New York elections. Quoted in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.

If there ever could be a proper time for mere catch arguments, that time surely is not now. In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity.

1st December, 1862. Second State of the Union Address.

Fellow-citizens, we can not 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. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. 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. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just–a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.

1st December, 1862. Second State of the Union Address.

Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories.

26th January, 1863. Letter to Major General Joseph Hooker.

The Father of Waters again goes unxexed to the sea.

26th August, 1863. Letter to James C. Conkling.

I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice; and have received a great deal of kindness, not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it.

2nd November, 1863. Letter to James H. Hackett.

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 battlefield 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 cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot 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.

19th November, 1863. Gettysburg Address.

The President last night had a dream. He was in a party of plain people and as it became known who he was they began to comment on his appearance. One of them said, “He is a common-looking man.” The President replied, “Common-loooking people are the best in the world: that is the reason that the Lord makes so many of them.”

23rd December, 1863. Quoted in Letters of John Hay and Extracts from his Diary, C.L. Hay (eds).

I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.

4th April, 1864. Letters to A. G. Hodges.

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 best man in America, but rather they have concluded that it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river, and have further concluded that I am not so poor a horse that they might not make a botch of it in trying to swap.

9th June, 1864. Reply to National Union League.

Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.

18th July, 1864. Letter to Secretary Stanton, where he refuses to dismiss Montgomery Blair from post of Postmaster-General

It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its existence in great emergencies.

10th November, 1864. Response to a serenade.

I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me.

1864. Reply to the Missouri Committee of Seventy.

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 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.

21st November, 1864. Letter to Mrs. Bixby.

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.

4th March, 1865. Second Inaugural Address.

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 bondsman’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.

4th March, 1865. Second Inaugural Address.

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. Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

17th March, 1865. Address to an Indiana Regiment.

Important principles may and must be inflexible.

11th April, 1865. Final public address, Washington D.C.

If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.

To a visitor to the White House. Quoted in Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories by Alexander K. McClure, 1904.

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 is 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.

White House conversation. Quoted in Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln, Francs B. Carpenter, 1866.

As President, I have no eyes but constitutional eyes; I cannot see you.

Attributed. Reply to South Carolina Commissioners.

The Lord prefers common-looking people. That is why he makes so many of them.

‘Our President’ by James Morgan. Chapter 6.

People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.

Lincoln’s judgement on a book, quoted in G.W.E. Russell’s ‘Collections and Recollections’, chapter 30.

So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!

Upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, quoted in ‘Abraham Lincoln: The War Years’ Volume 2, Chapter 39, by Carl Sandburg.