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Abraham Lincoln
1809 - 1865
Sixteenth president of the United States (1861-65)
Books by Abraham Lincoln
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Great Speeches (1991)
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Selected Speeches & Writings (1992)
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Click here for an essay by Abraham Lincoln
What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not the reliance against the resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where.

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.

If danger ever reach us, it must spring up from amongst us. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and its finisher as a nation of free men, we will live through all time, or die by suicide.

Important principles may and must be inflexible.

Apr. 11, 1865 - from his last public address
Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and makes crimes out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.

Freedom is the last, best hope of earth.

The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.

When ballots have fairly, and constitutionally, decided [a political question], there can be no successful appeal ... except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections. Such will be a great lesson of peace; teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by war -- teaching all the folly of being the beginners of a war.

quoted by columnist William F. Buckley in his, Dec. 4, 2000, column for UPS
To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.

Nearly all men can withstand adversity; if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

If the policy of the government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court...The people will have ceased to be their own rulers.

Mar. 04, 1861 - from his 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 span of four years.

Mar. 4, 1861 - from his inaugural address
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal...We here highly resolve that the 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, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Nov. 19, 1863 - from his Gettysburg address
You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.

With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.

What I do say is that no man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent.

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 the people all the time.

1904 - quoted in Lincoln Yarns and Stories by Alexander K. McClure
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers and in wealth and in power as no other ever has, but we have forgotten God. We have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace and too proud to pray.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.

May 19, 1856 - from a speech
I have often inquired of myself what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of separation of colonies from the motherland, but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty not alone to the people of this country, but hope to all the world, for all future time.

1861 - from a speech in Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

I am nothing. Truth is everything.

The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all in their separate and individual capacities.

Human action can be modified to some extent, but human nature cannot be changed.

I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don't believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good.

Mar. 06, 1860 - from a speech delivered at New Haven, Connecticut
... if the policy of the government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court ... the people will have ceased to be their own rulers.

Mar. 4, 1861 - from his Inaugural Address
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.

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

Feb. 21, 1859 - from a speech in New York
[In a meeting with his generals] If I call a tail a leg, then how many legs does a sheep have? [The generals replied, 'Five.'] No, itís four; because calling a tail a leg doesnít make it one.

If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?

You cannot help men permanently by doing what they could and should do for themselves. You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by encouraging class hatred. You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.

In all that people can do for themselves, government ought not to interfere.

It is the eternal struggle between these two principles - right and wrong. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time and will ever continue to struggle. It is the same spirit that says, "You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it."