Did Abraham Lincoln Say That?
March 20, 2009 61 Comments
We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood…It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. 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.
—Who Said This?
The other day this quote was posted on this site and attributed to Abraham Lincoln. The poster is not one to provide any evidence, proof, source of or reason for any claim no matter how outlandish. But the quote struck me as odd. So while I researched other items important to me I decided to use my break to research this one.
The quote just seemed too perfect for a liberal and entirely out of place for a president who had consumed more power than George W. Bush and had resided over the break up and resulting war of the United States. A quick Internet search returned an infinite supply of sources for this quote. Various Abraham Lincoln quote sites, countless left-wing blogs, and random other personal sites all attributed this quote to one of two parties; Abraham Lincoln, or Unknown. Finally I found a somewhat more reliable source, a UC Davis personal website which seemed to do some research concerning the matter. This site attributed the quote to Abraham Lincoln, from a letter by Lincoln to Col. William F. Elkins, November 21st, 1864.
The next question was, why would a president ruling over a civil war within his country, watching brothers kill brothers spilling blood across the land, attempting to free the enslaved people within his land, holding off foreign intervention and attempting to prevent the total ruin of his country, confide in a Colonel who is currently in the midst of fighting this war that he foresees a not too distant future of American ruin brought on, not by said war, or perpetuated deep seated disdain from said war, or meddlesome outside sources, but by corporations making a lot of money? That didn’t seem like a way to champion high spirits and morale within the fighting ranks. It just didn’t add up. Further research was needed.
I decided to try finding the recipient of the letter, Col. William F. Elkins. This proved rather fruitless. What I did find is that the Elkins family is one of the oldest family names in America and apparently is compelled to serve in the armed forces. The Elkins family name fought on both sides of the Civil War as shown by this source, Obituaries, New York Times, January 5th, 1897, and then by this thorough genealogy Elkins Genealogy Data which contained about 25 William Elkins who fought in just the Civil War. Further research showed the Elkins family has fought in every single conflict America has been in. So another angle was needed.
At this point my break project turned into a several break project. I looked and found no record of this letter in the following books:
- Uncollected Letters of Abraham Lincoln by Abraham Lincoln, Gilbert Avery Tracy, Francis Henry Allen, 1917
- Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln : Letters and telegrams, Gasparin to Meade. by Abraham Lincoln, Marion Mills Miller, Henry Clay Whitney, 1907
- Lincoln Addresses and Letters by Abraham Lincoln, Charles Washington Moores, John M. Avent, 1914
- Lincoln Letters by Abraham Lincoln, Austin Augustus King, William Keeney Bixby, 1913
- Speeches & Letters of Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865 by Abraham Lincoln, 1894
- History of the Administration of President Lincoln: Including His Speeches… by Henry Jarvis Raymond, 1864
- American Patriots and Statesmen, from Washington to Lincoln: edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, 1916
- Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln by Nicolay and Hay, 1894
- Writings of Abraham Lincoln by Arthor, Brooks, Lapsey, 1923
- Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln 1959, Basler
- Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln Supplemental 1848-1865, Basler, 1974
- Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln 2nd Supplemental 1848-1865, Basler, 1975
- Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Stern, 1940
- Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings, Kraus, 1989
- Selected Writings and Speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Williams, 1980
However, the quote actually appeared in two books I have found. The first, The Lincoln Encyclopedia by Archer H. Shaw, (1950, MacMillan). This source merely references the second book, Emanual Herz’s Abraham Lincoln: A New Portrait Vol. 2 (1931). The Quote is indeed found in this book but it has no source listed. It also seems odd that of the 25 books, with at least one collection of books being the authoritative source for Lincoln manuscripts, only one of them had the quote and even still did not contain the source of said quote. Then I stumbled upon Al Gore. That guy is into everything.
Apparently in Al Gore’s Assault on Reason, this quote appears and it too is cited to the same mysterious letter. At this point I found Andrew Furgeson had done similar research on the matter in his critique of Mr. Gore’s book “What Al Whishes Abe Said“. Furgeson had indeed discovered that this quote is a fake. And from here I found Thomas F. Schwartz’s Spring 1999 article “Lincoln Never Said That” in For the People: A Newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Association Vol. 1, Number 1, Page 4. Mr. Schwartz presents his more in-depth research and findings. In it is a real gem by Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son, denouncing this quote as a fake. I highly recommend reading it.