SPRINGFIELD, IL – You’ve found a long-lost copy of the Gettysburg Address hidden in the pages of an old book. You’re making a speech and want to use a famous quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Where can you go to determine if the document is genuine, or if Lincoln really made that famous quote?
Many of the common misconceptions about original Lincoln documents or things Lincoln said are highlighted in a new addition to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency’s (IHPA) website. Visitors may go to www.IllinoisHistory.gov
and look under the Agency Highlights section, where they will find “Understanding the Past: Facsimile Documents and Things Lincoln Never Said.” Here, they may learn about authentic-looking Lincoln documents that are often mistaken for originals, or famous quotes often attributed to Lincoln that were actually spoken or written by someone else.
“Several times each year, we get calls from people who think they’ve found the ‘missing copy’ of the Gettysburg Address, when what they really have is a commercially printed ‘facsimile’ copy,” said Illinois State Historian Thomas F. Schwartz of the IHPA, who usually handles these public inquiries. “We also have frequent contacts from speechwriters and authors who want to verify certain Lincoln quotes, and are surprised to learn that Lincoln didn’t make them.”
The new website section entitled “Facsimile Documents” explains the historic practice of reproducing look-alike copies of historic documents. These facsimiles can appear genuine, as they are usually printed on paper that has a historic look and feel. Three versions of facsimile Gettysburg Address copies are used as examples to help people determine if the document they found in an attic or behind a picture frame is the real McCoy or a decoy. Full-color images are included of each example.
One well-known facsimile is printed on brown crinkled paper so it looks historic; the problem is, Lincoln rarely used such paper, and certainly didn’t use brown paper to write the Gettysburg Address. Another version is printed on white crinkled paper with a note at the bottom explaining that it is a facsimile copy – this note at the bottom is often cut off, making the document appear genuine. Playing into the widely held belief that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on an envelope while en route to the Gettysburg Cemetery dedication in 1863, an insurance company in the 1940s printed a version on what appears to be an Executive Mansion envelope. This was intended to be an inside joke for company employees, since there is no evidence the President wrote his speech on an envelope, and train travel did not lend itself to writing because the moving train made it impossible to write with clarity.
The website examines one version of a historically valuable facsimile document bearing Lincoln’s signature. One Hundred Day Volunteer Certificates, each bearing the signatures of Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, were issued to thousands Civil War soldiers. The document and the signatures were reproiduced, but blanks were provided to fill in the name of the volunteer and his dates of service. So although the signatures are facsimiles, the certificates are original.
“Lincoln Never Said That” is another new section included on the “Facsimile Documents” page. This section addresses several of the famous quotes erroneously attributed to Lincoln. Some of the quotes were written by others; some have been attributed to Lincoln over the years with no way to verify if he actually spoke or wrote the words. These include:
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.
Allegedly written by Lincoln to Thomas Elkins on November 21, 1864. However, upon further examination by his son Robert Todd Lincoln, the source was traced to a séance in Iowa, where a medium reportedly channeled these words for the slain President.
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.
Quoted by Senator Trent Lott on “Meet the Press,” March 22, 1998. The Senator found this quote during an on-line search, and in fact the quote can be found attributed to Lincoln on many websites. However, there is no record that Lincoln actually said it, and recollections by his contemporaries that Lincoln said similar things are shaky at best.
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.
Part of an undated letter found on internet sites that was allegedly written to the headmaster of a school in which one of Lincoln’s sons was studying. Most experts agree it does not read like Lincoln’s other prose, and there is no evidence Lincoln wrote to the teachers of his only son to attend school away from home, his son Robert.
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.
Allegedly uttered by Lincoln, but the occasion and source remain undetermined.
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.
These “ten points” appear every February 12 in newspaper ads honoring Abraham Lincoln. In fact, these aphorisms were written by Reverend William John Henry Boetcker, 1873 – 1962.
To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.
Cited by Douglas MacArthur in a 1950 speech after his release as commander of the United Nations forces in Korea. It is actually from a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
Allegedly part of a speech delivered either in Bloomington, Illinois in May 1856 (the so-called “lost speech”), or in Clinton, Illinois in September 1858. However, contemporary newspaper accounts of these speeches make no reference to these remarks.
The “Lincoln Never Said That” and “Facsimile Documents” sections on the IHPA website will be periodically updated with examples of questionable quotes and dubious documents.
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency is an agency of state government that administers more than 60 state historic sites and memorials, will operate the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum being built in Springfield, develops and distributes educational materials about the state’s history, publishes several magazines about Illinois history, and administers state and federal historic preservation laws and programs in Illinois.