Did Abraham Lincoln Say That?

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
Works of Abraham Lincoln by Nicolay and Hay
Writings of Abraham Lincoln by Arthor, Brooks, Lapsey, 1923
Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln 1959, Baslor
Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln Supplemental 1848-1865, Baslor
Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln 2nd Supplemental 1848-1865, Baslor
Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Stern
Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings, Kraus
Selected Writings and Speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Williams

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.

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About TennesseePaul
Tennessee Paul is a happily married Physicist living in Raleigh, North Carolina. He began his professional career in real estate market analysis, building complex algorithms for market forecasting and trends, moving from there into retirement banking. Currently he is back in the field of physics working on semiconductors. In addition to physics he is a serious baseball fan and follower of the Atlanta Braves. Along with baseball, he enjoys movies, music, and politics and is a registered independent. He has conservative leanings founded in his Christian faith.

41 Responses to Did Abraham Lincoln Say That?

  1. Might want to edit your title their so it doesn’t take away from such a well researched article.

    I can’t believe you have this much time! You should get this published.

  2. It is published. Published right here on the authoritative American Missive. This should be your first source for everything. :-)

  3. BaldManMoody says:

    Didn’t know Lincoln had a son. You should send this in to debunk this mythical quote on Snopes as well.

    Now, prove whether Lincoln was in fact a homosexual or not. After all, they don’t call them Log Cabin Republicans for nothing.

  4. Snopes was all over this. They didn’t have the links for the sources, but they killed the idea that Lincoln said it.


    They also had this line from Historian Merrill Peterson’s Lincoln in American Memory:

    “Nevertheless, he was no prophet. Imprisoned in the democratic-capitalist ideology of nineteenth-century America, [Abraham Lincoln] believed the free laborer toiled up from poverty to become a capitalist in his own right. Individual opportunity, not class struggle, was his message.”

  5. Anthony Hanson says:

    Your logic for denying it’s existence is wrong Lincoln had every reason to write something like this. At this time in history there was a campaign by the railroad industry to change the definition of the corporate law. Prior to Lincoln’s death the corporations had packed the courts with individuals gung-ho over giving corporations personhood to remove their liability. Fallowing his death and the passage of the 14th amendment this power was given to them in: Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 U.S. 394 (1886), only two decades after the letter. With that said it is likely but not yet proven to be a forged letter. However, it was discussed during the 1896 presidential elections which gives it more credence then you have here. Abe was a pro labour rights kind of guy so despite his son’s misgivings it can not be concluded to be forgery simply because some newer historians say it is. His son did discuss the latter and that dates it prior to then. It was argued around 1896 that his Private secretary John Nicolay forged it. So, maybe that’s who we should quote as the person who foresaw Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. ___ (2010) (the end of democracy as we know it).


    • Bill Kolasinski says:

      In the 1850′s Lincoln was chief lawyer for the Illinos Central Railroad, and as such made quite a good living. Very strange if he was truly anti-corporation.

      • Fabio P.Barbieri says:

        And your point is? The man who coined the expression “Military-Industrial complex” was the former commander-in-chief of the American Army. Sometimes those who see a thing close up understand it better than others.

  6. Thanks Tony.

    There is a plethora of resource and information refuting the claim that this is indeed an actual quote from Mr. Lincoln. In fact the only source which claims the letter, and therein the quote, were Mr. Lincoln’s refused to allow the letter to be analyzed and certified by official historians, scholars or people of knowledge and skill capable of authenticating it.

    The contention I have with this quote, beloved by many, is that those who do so love it, readily claim that this quote is irrefutably and undeniably the scribed word of Mr. Lincoln. And nothing could be further from the truth.

    As such I will rely on the opinions of the scholars, historians and family members. That this quote is not merely a “forgery” but a fraud.

  7. William F. Elkin was my G-G-G-G- Grandfather. He was one of Abraham Lincoln’s best friends from Springfield. He was not some random Army officer getting a letter from the president.

  8. Dave Rickmers,

    Who said William Elkin was a “random army officer?”

    Being that he is family to you, would you still have this letter? It’d be quite the find to have as every single Abraham Lincoln scholar has yet to discover proof of the letter’s existence and/or authenticity of its origin.

  9. Jim Lawrence says:

    I’m going to take the Indiana Jones approach (where he shoots the grinning, massive, sword-twirling Arab rather than engage on hand-to-hand combat on shaky ground) and just say, whether Lincoln said it or not, he oughta have, plus we’ve always got Eisenhower’s quote to fall back on when we need proof that there are or were still some leaders who could actually lead in our country’s history.
    I say this out of pure nostalgia, for leadership’s gaunt spectres today cower before the scythe of money.

  10. Yes, we’ve allowed our politicians to fall in the pockets of corporations. We’ve also allowed ourselves to be bought by these politicians, see Wisconsin. People are begging for their government checks! Politicians owned by corporations, citizens owned by politicians. We’re in a deep boat indeed.

  11. R. Feldman says:

    Did Abe Lincoln notice corporations behaving badly, in 1864? Well, prior to his death, corporations had packed the courts with people willing to give corporations human rights to help them avoid liabilities such as some taxes. The corporations wanted to change the definition of corporate law. It is not unlikely that he might have written something about this to his good friend Col. Elkin. That the 1864 letter is no longer available is no proof it did not exist. This letter was discussed during the 1896 presidential elections, or so I read. Giving such credence to Robert Lincoln’s opinion about what his father might have written to a friend is questionable. He had a distant relationship with his father, growing up, as his father traveled. Later he went to boarding schools. In l864, he was at Harvard and did not move to the White House until the year ended. The main reason I would question the authorship of the letter is that Abe Lincoln would have to have been extremely intelligent to be able to extrapolate from what was going on then to see how this would turn out in the future, as of course it now has. I know he was smart…but this would be brilliant!

    • Did Abe Lincoln notice corporations behaving badly, in 1864?

      Well, considering that is not the question, it is entirely irrelevant. The question at had is, “Did Abraham Lincoln Say That?” The answer is irrefutably and emphatically “No”.

      You may continue to love and cherish the quote. Just don’t foolishly attribute it to a man who did not utter or pen the words. It ascribes one no credit and does little justice to further ones argument to make such a patently false claim.

      • Rick T Roll says:

        to prove a negative is impossible, there is evidence to suggest he did say it

      • “there is evidence to suggest he did say it”

        False. There is no evidence to suggest he said anything of the sort. The “evidence” provided is as credible as claiming Rick Aster actually posted that comment.

  12. Keen says:

    Onward (and some homework for the skeptics):

    “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” Thomas Jefferson

    “There is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by… corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses. It’s one of the reasons why the word “corporation” doesn’t exist in the constitution – they were to be chartered only by states, so local people could keep a close eye on them.” James Madison, Father of the Constitution

    “In this point of the case the question is distinctly presented whether the people of the United States are to govern through representatives chosen by their unbiased suffrages or whether the money and power of a great corporation are to be secretly exerted to influence their judgment and control their decisions.” Andrew Jackson

    “I am more than ever convinced of the dangers to which the free and unbiased exercise of political opinion – the only sure foundation and safeguard of republican government – would be exposed by any further increase of the already overgrown influence of corporate authorities.” Martin van Buren

    “As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.” Grover Cleveland

    “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” Theodore Roosevelt

    “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, IS Fascism.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt

    “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Dwight David Eisenhower

    Abe Lincoln’s tyrannical father was Constable (High Sheriff) of Cumberland County, Kentucky.

    • I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable


      In the spirit of our times to pick and choose the quotes which most satisify the current agenda.

      • Mags says:

        I’m not sure how that rebuts or changes the meaning of any of the quotes Keen posted, including the FDR one. Your quote seems to be a non-sequitur.

      • Not all posts are about rebuts or changing of meanings. Is it a must to begin a quote battle to prove a point?

  13. Stephen Reynolds says:

    To return to the issue of the supposed recipient of the letter: William Fletcher Elkin (no ‘s’ on the end of the name) was with Lincoln one of the “Long Nine” in the Illinois legislature who got the state capital moved from Vandalia to Springfield. He was indeed an old friend of Lincoln’s. He was not a colonel but had served as captain in the Black Hawk War. The rank and the spelling of the name are wrong, but this must be the person intended. That does not authenticate the alleged letter, of course, but at least it provides a non-fictional alleged recipient to whom Lincoln might well have written a few months before his death.

  14. Elin says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading all that has been written here, coming here by way of said Lincoln quote posted on a facebook site, and another posting which pointed the way here.

  15. Jamie says:

    Same here. Good research, and you may well be correct – but from what I can tell from everything above, it looks impossible to irrefutably disprove this.

    • Thanks for reading, Jamie. I would state it a bit differently. According to the sources I have found it is impossible to irrefutably prove this quote is Lincoln’s. And, as noted in the missive, several sources have claimed to irrefutably disqualify the quote as being Mr. Lincoln’s. Even snopes has concluded that this is in fact not Mr. Lincoln.

  16. Dave Keaveney says:

    Agree with Elin and Jamie! This was very interesting reading!!

    • Thanks for reading katerina. Actually, when reviewing your link I found that all the pertinent books listed in there are covered in this missive.

      From your link:

      cite p. 40 of The Lincoln Encyclopedia, by Archer H. Shaw (Macmillan, 1950, NY). That traces the quote’s lineage to p. 954 of Abraham Lincoln: A New Portrait, (Vol. 2) by Emanuel Hertz (Horace Liveright Inc, 1931, NY).

      And from this very missive:

      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.

      And as also mentioned the quote is not found in the Collected works of Abraham Lincoln:

      “Thirty-five years have passed since the appearance of Roy P. Basler’s Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Those nine volumes plus a supplemental volume published in 1974 as part of Greenwood Press’s Contributions in American Studies series provide the most authoritative canon of Lincoln’s writings.”

      And according to the Abraham Lincoln Association

      “A number of years ago, folk singer Pete Seeger sent a fax to the Abraham Lincoln Association trying to verify the following excerpt supposedly contained in a letter written to Thomas Elkins on November 21, 1864… John G. Nicolay was frequently asked about it in 1890 and he traced its origins to a pamphlet by the Caldwell Remedy Company issued on May 10, 1888.”

      – Abraham Lincoln Association

      And from the internet’s most prominent mythbusters:

      “Pedigree for this quote is often asserted by pointing to the 1950 Lincoln Encyclopedia compiled by Archer H. Shaw, which “authenticates” the quote by citing a purported 1864 letter from Lincoln to one Col. William F. Elkins found in Emanuel Hertz’s 1931 book, Abraham Lincoln: A New Portrait. However, this source is fraudulent: Hertz was taken in by a forgery, and Shaw, a sloppy compiler, added the bogus letter to his encyclopedia (along with several other pieces of Lincoln apocrpha) without verifying its authenticity.”


    • I’d also like to point out that this link you posted (by Rick Crawford, crawford@cs.ucdavis.edu) was also referenced in the missive:

      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.

  17. Dawn says:

    Tennesse Paul–get a job! I suppose you are living on government handouts? Medicare and social security??? LOL!
    It makes me laugh….

    • Floyd Miller says:

      Guess you didn’t read TP’s bio at the end of the blog post. He even states he’s a conservative, so I guess you are either a teabagger or a teenage girl (or boy using a girl’s name as an alias). Until your comment, even the ones I disagreed with I conceded were intelligent and well-researched (for both sides). Your comment is ignorant and definitely not researched, since the answer to your ad hominem attack is right before your eyes if you had bothered to read it. Back to the kiddie table for your dinner.

    • Rick T Roll says:

      probably, most people in Appalachi are on the Government take one way or another. There good ol boys though so that all white

  18. George McIntosh says:

    Thanks for the doing all the work TP, interesting read. What caused you to pursue this grand venture? Was the quote unsettling for you or did it just not make any sense?

    • Thanks for reading George McIntosh.

      “[This quote appeared on this site. It was presented by a particular poster/commenter who] 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”

  19. ConcernedCitizen says:

    what i find interesting is that snopes found the earliest the quote was in use was 20 years after Lincolns death. Whether or not he actually said it matters not….the fact is that someone well over 100 years ago hit the nail on the head. Looking around us where Monsanto controls our Congress and our crops, who can deny the quote is essentially correct?

    • TheBigEasy says:

      To look at it as such is one way, but to think there is something new under the sun is foolish…

      “…an era of corruption in high places…”

      It is not prescient to state that corruption will be “in high places”. Nor is this something that is inherent with the existence of corporations. Corruption exists in all forms of governance and societies.

      I’d say the problem is compounded when people wish to pass blame on “others” or “corporations” instead of acknowledging the fact that this is what humans are. We sin because we are sinners. Outlawing corporations isn’t going to solve the problem. It will not even remotely make a dent in corruption.

  20. donna says:

    I acknowledge the time and attention you have given this project. The quote got my attention because I personally feel it is eerily descriptive of today’s political scene and spoken such a long time ago. The Flaming Sword confirmed that these words were spoken well over 100 years ago. I am not a big historian so who actually spoke these words is less of an issue to me.
    I want to thank you for not closing the comments and for responding to everyone who commented because in doing so, I received the answer to my question. I downloaded the free e-book from Google and I’m thrilled!

    Best wishes to you.

    • Donna,

      Thank you for reading. I enjoy the conversation. And, from my research, I’d agree, the quote is old. No source I found disputed the age as they all implied it was an old late 1800′s quote, maybe early 1900′s. The only dispute being the name assigned to the quote.

      I do not intend to close the comments. I actually enjoy them more than writing an actual blog these days. However, it is a new year, so perhaps I will bang out some riff-raff just to freshen up the site.

  21. Fiona says:

    It would, of course, be nice if the quote was Lincoln’s, but regardless, it’s a good one. is there any information on who the actual author was?

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