Abraham Lincoln is probably the most misquoted dead president on the Web, leading to his picture occasionally appearing with this made-up quote: “The problem with quotes found on the Internet is that they’re not always accurate.”
Unfortunately, not all dishonest quotes attributed to Honest Abe are so obviously false. Here’s one: “If this nation is to be destroyed, it will be destroyed from within; if it is not destroyed from within, it will live for all time to come.” This quote has all the hallmarks of a made-up quote. It’s ominous, prophetic, and versatile enough to support positions across the political spectrum.
Lincoln was very much concerned about preserving the union, and domestic enemies. So like all good lies, this one is built with a germ of truth. But it’s still a severe paraphrase, just not an invention out of whole cloth like the quotes citing Lincoln as opposing Prohibition.
In a speech titled, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions” delivered to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838, Lincoln said: “Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. 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.”
Lincoln was speaking about the conditions leading up to the Civil War. But since he’s our American prophet, the idea that we can take his words and apply them throughout time to whatever domestic enemies we see in our midst today, is just too great for some to resist.