Lincoln: A Book of Quotations

Lincoln: A Book of Quotations


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"All I have learned, I learned from books," declared Abraham Lincoln — and this book offers ample learning from the sixteenth president's wise and often witty remarks. Drawn from speeches, letters, and other sources, these thoughts and opinions range from considerations of human nature and spirituality to the burdens and privileges of the presidency along with many other topics of enduring interest.
Selections include comments on morality ("It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.") and the pursuit of happiness ("Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.") as well as friendship ("I'm a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn't have the heart to let him down."), human frailty ("It's not me who can’t keep a secret. It's the people I tell that can't."), and other thought-provoking subjects.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486806075
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 08/17/2016
Series: Dover Thrift Editions
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

An English professor at the City University of New York's Kingsborough College, Bob Blaisdell is the editor of numerous Dover Thrift Editions and many other books. He has published essays about his experiences as a teacher and regularly reviews books for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Christian Science Monitor.

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A Book of Quotations

By Bob Blaisdell

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2016 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-80607-5



We find ourselves in the peaceful possession of the fairest portion of earth as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement of establishment of them — they are a legacy bequeathed us by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Theirs was a task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to up rear upon its hills and valleys a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; 'tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know.

— "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions": Address before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1838

* * *

At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? — 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 Buonaparte 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.

— "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions": Address before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1838

* * *

We are a great empire. We are eighty years old. We stand at once the wonder and admiration of the whole world, and we must enquire what it is that has given us so much prosperity, and we shall understand that to give up that one thing would be to give up all future prosperity. This cause is that every man can make himself. It has been said that such a race of prosperity has been run nowhere else. ... we see a people who, while they boast of being free, keep their fellow beings in bondage.

— Speech, Kalamazoo, Michigan, August 27, 1856

* * *

If the great American people will only keep their temper, on both sides of the line, the troubles will come to an end, and the question which now distracts the country will be settled just as surely as all other difficulties of like character which have originated in this government have been adjusted. Let the people on both sides keep their self-possession, and just as other clouds have cleared away in the time, so will this, and this great nation shall continue to prosper as heretofore.

— Speech, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, February 15, 1861

* * *

A nation may be said to consist of its territory, its people, and its laws. The territory is the only part which is of certain durability. "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth forever." It is of the first importance to duly consider and estimate this ever-enduring part. That portion of the earth's surface which is owned and inhabited by the people of the United States is well adapted to be the home of one national family, and it is not well adapted for two or more. Its vast extent and its variety of climate and productions are of advantage in this age for one people, whatever they might have been in former ages. Steam, telegraphs, and intelligence have brought these to be an advantageous combination for one united people.

— Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

* * *

Our national strife springs not from our permanent part; not from the land we inhabit; not from our national homestead. There is no possible severing of this, but would multiply, and not mitigate, evils among us. In all its adaptations and aptitudes, it demands union, and abhors separation. In fact, it would, ere long, force reunion, however much of blood and treasure the separation might have cost. Our strife pertains to ourselves — to the passing generations of men; and it can, without convulsion, be hushed forever from the passing of one generation.

— Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

* * *

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

— Gettysburg Address, at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863

* * *

Nowhere in the world is presented a government of so much liberty and equality. To the humblest and poorest amongst us are held out the highest privileges and positions. The present moment finds me at the White House, yet there is as good a chance for your children as there was for my father's.

— Speech to 148th Ohio Regiment, August 31, 1864


Education and Advice for the Young

Upon the system of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the scriptures and other works, both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves.

— Letter to the people of Sangamo County, March 9, 1832

* * *

I am slow to learn and slow to forget that which I have learned. My mind is like a piece of steel, very hard to scratch anything on it and almost impossible after you get it there to rub it out.

— Remark to his friend Joshua Speed (n.d.)

* * *

A fool could learn about as well as a wise man, but after he had learned, it did not do him any good.

— Remark to an acquaintance from Illinois (n.d.)

* * *

When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted.

— Speech to the Springfield Washingtonian Temperance Society, February 22, 1842

* * *

... what is the influence of fashion, but the influence that other people's actions have [on our own] actions, the strong inclination each of us feels to do as we see all our neighbors do? Nor is the influence of fashion confined to any particular thing or class of things. It is just as strong on one subject as another.

— Speech to the Springfield Washingtonian Temperance Society, February 22, 1842

* * *

How miserably things seem to be arranged in this world. If we have no friends, we have no pleasure; and if we have them, we are sure to lose them and be doubly pained by the loss.

— Letter to Joshua Speed, February 25, 1842

* * *

The way for a young man to rise is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that anybody wishes to hinder him. Allow me to assure you that suspicion and jealousy never did help any man in any situation. There may sometimes be ungenerous attempts to keep a young man down; and they will succeed too, if he allows his mind to be diverted from its true channel to brood over the attempted injury. Cast about, and see if this feeling has not injured every person you have ever known to fall into it.

— Letter to William H. Herndon, Lincoln's law partner in Springfield, Illinois, July 10, 1848

* * *

This habit of uselessly wasting time is the whole difficulty; and it is vastly important to you, and still more so to your children that you should break this habit. It is more important to them, because they have longer to live and can keep out of an idle habit before they are in it; easier than they can get out after they are in.

— Letter to John D. Johnston, his stepbrother, December 24, 1848

* * *

Resolve to be honest at all events; and if, in your own judgment, you can not be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation.

— Notes for a lecture on law, July 1, 1850

* * *

I am from home too much of my time for a young man to read law with me advantageously. If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already. It is but a small matter whether you read with anybody or not. I did not read with anyone. Get the books, and read and study them till you understand them in their principal features; and that is the main thing. It is of no consequence to be in a large town while you are reading. I read at New Salem, which never had three hundred people living in it. The books, and your capacity for understanding them, are just the same in all places. ...

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.

— Letter to Isham Reavis, November 5, 1855

* * *

Free labor argues that as the Author of man makes every individual with one head and one pair of hands, it was probably intended that heads and hands should cooperate as friends, and that that particular head should direct and control that particular pair of hands. As each man has one mouth to be fed and one pair of hands to furnish food, it was probably intended that that particular pair of hands should feed that particular mouth — that each head is the natural guardian, director and protector of the hands and mouth inseparably connected with it; and that being so, every head should be cultivated and improved by whatever will add to its capacity for performing its charge. In one word, free labor insists on universal education.

— Speech to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 30, 1859

* * *

It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools, so called; but no qualification was ever required of a teacher, beyond "readin, writin, and cipherin," the rule of three. ... There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education. Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the rule of three, but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.

— Letter to Jesse Fell, for an article in Chester (Pennsylvania) County Times, December 20, 1859

* * *

I remember how, when a mere child, I used to get irritated when anybody talked to me in a way I could not understand. I don't think I ever got angry at anything else in my life. ... I could not sleep, though I often tried to, when I got on such a hunt after an idea, until I had caught it; and when I thought I had got it, I was not satisfied until I had repeated it over and over, until I had put it in language plain enough, as I thought, for any boy I knew to comprehend. This was a kind of passion with me, and it has stuck by me; for I am never easy now, when I am handling a thought, till I have bounded it north, and bounded it south, and bounded it east, and bounded it west. ...

— Conversation, with Reverend John Gulliver, March 9, 1860

* * *

Yours of the 24 asking "the best mode of obtaining a thorough knowledge of the law" is received. The mode is very simple, though laborious and tedious. It is only to get the books, and read, and study them carefully. ... Work, work, work, is the main thing.

— Letter to John M. Brockman, September 25, 1860

* * *

Young gentlemen, excuse me for swearing before you; by jings is swearing, for my good old mother taught me that anything that had a by before it is swearing. I won't do so any more.

— Remark to the men of the War Department's telegraph office, September 1861

* * *

Your good mother tells me you are feeling very badly in your new situation. Allow me to assure you it is a perfect certainty that you will, very soon, feel better — quite happy — if you only stick to the resolution you have taken to procure a military education. I am older than you, have felt badly myself, and know what I tell you is true. Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did. On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all your life. Take the advice of a friend, who, though he never saw you, deeply sympathizes with you, and stick to your purpose.

— Letter to Quintin Campbell, who had recently started at West Point; written at the request of Campbell's mother and Lincoln's wife, June 28, 1862

* * *

It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time.

— Letter to Fanny McCullough, December 23, 1862

* * *

The advice of a father to his son, "Beware of entrance to a quarrel, but being in, bear it that the opposed may beware of thee," is good, and yet not the best. Quarrel not at all. No man resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take all the consequences, including the vitiating of his temper and the loss of self-control. Yield larger things to which you can show no more than equal right; and yield lesser ones, though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite.

— Letter to Captain James Cutts, October 26, 1863

* * *

Do good to those who hate you and turn their ill will to friendship.

— Remark to his wife, Mary, when she "talked to him about former Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase and those who did him evil" (n.d.)


Faith, Morality, and "God's Will"

The preacher, it is said, advocates temperance because he is a fanatic, and desires a union of the Church and State; the lawyer, from his pride and vanity of hearing himself speak; and the hired agent, for his salary. But when one who has long been known as a victim of intemperance bursts the fetters that have bound him, and appears before his neighbors "clothed, and in his right mind," a redeemed specimen of long lost humanity, and stands up with tears of joy trembling in eyes to tell of the miseries once endured, now to be endured no more forever; of his once naked and starving children now clad and fed comfortably; of a wife long weighed down with woe, weeping, and a broken heart, now restored to health, happiness and renewed affection; and how easily it all is done, once it is resolved to be done; however simple his language, there is a logic, and an eloquence in it, that few, with human feelings, can resist. They cannot say that he desires a union of church and state, for he is not a church member; they can not say he is vain of hearing himself speak, for his whole demeanor shows he would gladly avoid speaking at all; they cannot say he speaks for pay for he receives none, and asks for none. Nor can his sincerity in any way be doubted, or his sympathy for those he would persuade to imitate his example be denied.

— Speech to the Springfield Washingtonian Temperance Society, February 22, 1842


Excerpted from Lincoln by Bob Blaisdell. Copyright © 2016 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

America 1

Education and Advice for the Young 4

Faith, Morality, and "God's Will" 9

Fathers and Sons 17

His Own Life and Character 19

Law and the Constitution 27

Politics 36

Politicians: Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, and Zachary Taylor 54

The Presidency 63

Reading and Writing 82

Secession 85

Slavery, Equality, and the Emancipation Proclamation 93

Speech-Making 110

Storytelling 114

The War and His Generals 116

Women and Marriage 147

Appendix: Remarks on Abraham Lincoln by His Contemporaries 151

Bibliography 169

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