Abraham Lincoln Online Speeches and Writings
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Selected Quotations by Abraham Lincoln

For your convenience, this page combines two of our previous collections of Lincoln quotations and groups them under subject headings. The source is the standard authority on Lincoln speeches and writings, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, a large, multi-volume publication. If a link appears after a quotation, it will take you to the entire document, if the document is on this website.

For quotations without links, you can read the entire document by searching the Collected Works online. For common questions about Lincoln's speeches and writings, click here. To read about quotations which Lincoln did not say or write, click here.

AMBITION

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed.
--March 9, 1832 First Political Announcement

Towering genius distains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.
--January 27, 1838 Lyceum Address

You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm.
--January 26, 1863 Letter to Joseph Hooker

ANARCHY

There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.
--January 27, 1838 Lyceum Address

John Brown's effort was peculiar. It was not a slave insurrection. It was an attempt by white men to get up a revolt among slaves, in which the slaves refused to participate.
--February 27, 1860 Cooper Union Address

Plainly, the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy.
--March 4, 1861 Inaugural Address

CONSTITUTION

Let us then turn this government back into the channel in which the framers of the Constitution originally placed it.
--July 10, 1858 Speech at Chicago

I have borne a laborious, and, in some respects to myself, a painful part in the contest. Through all, I have neither assailed, nor wrestled with any part of the constitution.
--October 30, 1858 Speech at Springfield

Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties. And not to Democrats alone do I make this appeal, but to all who love these great and true principles.
--August 27, 1856 Speech at Kalamazoo, Michigan

I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.
--February 21, 1861 Speech to the New Jersey Senate

DANGER

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.
--January 27, 1838 Lyceum Address

I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we can not hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us.
--September 22, 1861 Letter to Orville Browning

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disentrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
--December 1, 1862 Message to Congress

The proportions of this rebellion were not for a long time understood. I saw that it involved the greatest difficulties, and would call forth all the powers of the whole country.
--June 2, 1863 Reply to Members of the Presbyterian General Assembly

In a word, I would not take any risk of being entangled upon the river, like an ox jumped half over a fence, and liable to be torn by dogs, front and rear, without a fair chance to gore one way or kick the other.
--June 5, 1863 Letter to Joseph Hooker

DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT

Of our political revolution of '76, we all are justly proud. It has given us a degree of political freedom, far exceeding that of any other nation of the earth. In it the world has found a solution of the long mooted problem, as to the capability of man to govern himself. In it was the germ which has vegetated, and still is to grow and expand into the universal liberty of mankind.
--February 22, 1842 Temperance Address

The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves -- in their separate, and individual capacities.
--July 1, 1854 [?] Fragment on Government

Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much.
--December 10, 1856 Speech at Chicago

Welcome, or unwelcome, agreeable, or disagreeable, whether this shall be an entire slave nation, is the issue before us.
--ca. May 18, 1858 Fragment of a Speech

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.
--ca. August 1, 1858 Fragment on Democracy

I think we have fairly entered upon a durable struggle as to whether this nation is to ultimately become all slave or all free, and though I fall early in the contest, it is nothing if I shall have contributed, in the least degree, to the final rightful result.
--December 8, 1858 Letter to H.D. Sharpe

Understanding the spirit of our institutions to aim at the elevation of men, I am opposed to whatever tends to degrade them.
--May 17, 1859 Letter to Theodore Canisius

...I do not mean to say that this government is charged with the duty of redressing or preventing all the wrongs in the world; but I do think that it is charged with the duty of preventing and redressing all wrongs which are wrongs to itself.
--September 17, 1859 Speech at Cincinnati, Ohio

This is essentially a People's contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men -- to lift artificial weights from all shoulders -- to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all -- to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.
--July 4, 1861 Message to Congress

May our children and our children's children to a thousand generations, continue to enjoy the benefits conferred upon us by a united country, and have cause yet to rejoice under those glorious institutions bequeathed us by Washington and his compeers.
--October 4, 1862 Speech at Frederick, Maryland

The restoration of the Rebel States to the Union must rest upon the principle of civil and political equality of both races; and it must be sealed by general amnesty.
--January 1864, Letter to James S. Wadsworth

While we must, by all available means, prevent the overthrow of the government, we should avoid planting and cultivating too many thorns in the bosom of society.
--March 18, 1864 Letter to Edwin M. Stanton

In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed. There is more involved in this contest than is realized by every one.
--August 18, 1864 Speech to the 164th Ohio Regiment

It is not merely for to-day, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children's children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives. --August 22, 1864 Speech to the One Hundred Sixty-sixth Ohio Regiment

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.
--August 31, 1864 Speech to 148th Ohio Regiment

Thoughtful men must feel that the fate of civilization upon this continent is involved in the issue of our contest.
--December 27, 1864 Letter to John Maclean

DESPOTISM

When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.
--From the August 24, 1855 Letter to Joshua Speed

That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles -- right and wrong -- throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings.
--October 15, 1858 Debate at Alton, Illinois

DETERMINATION

If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already.
--November 5, 1855 Letter to Isham Reavis

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing.
--November 5, 1855 Letter to Isham Reavis

I know not how to aid you, save in the assurance of one of mature age, and much severe experience, that you can not fail, if you resolutely determine, that you will not.
--July 22, 1860 Letter to George Latham

And having thus chosen our course, without guile, and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear, and with manly hearts.
--July 4, 1861 Message to Congress

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.
--June 28, 1862 Letter to Quintin Campbell

I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsakes me...
--June 28, 1862 Letter to William H. Seward

>>For quotations on perserverance click here.

EDUCATION

Upon the subject 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.
--March 9, 1832 First Political Announcement

Mr. Clay's lack of a more perfect early education, however it may be regretted generally, teaches at least one profitable lesson; it teaches that in this country, one can scarcely be so poor, but that, if he will, he can acquire sufficient education to get through the world respectably.
--July 6, 1852 Eulogy on Henry Clay

A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the [yet] unsolved ones.
--September 30, 1859 Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society

The old general rule was that educated people did not perform manual labor. They managed to eat their bread, leaving the toil of producing it to the uneducated. This was not an insupportable evil to the working bees, so long as the class of drones remained very small. But now, especially in these free States, nearly all are educated--quite too nearly all, to leave the labor of the uneducated, in any wise adequate to the support of the whole. It follows from this that henceforth educated people must labor. Otherwise, education itself would become a positive and intolerable evil. No country can sustain, in idleness, more than a small percentage of its numbers. The great majority must labor at something productive.
--September 30, 1859 Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society

>>For more quotations on education click here.

EMANCIPATION

I am a little uneasy about the abolishment of slavery in this District, not but I would be glad to see it abolished, but as to the time and manner of doing it.
--March 24, 1862 Letter to Horace Greeley

What I did, I did after very full deliberation, and under a heavy and solemn sense of responsibility. I can only trust in God that I have made no mistake.
--September 24, 1862 Reply to Serenade in Honor of [Preliminary] Emancipation Proclamation

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
--January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
--January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation

Still, to use a coarse, but an expressive figure, broken eggs can not be mended. I have issued the emancipation proclamation, and I can not retract it.
--January 8, 1863 Letter to John A. McClernand

I have very earnestly urged the slave-states to adopt emancipation; and it ought to be, and is an object with me not to overthrow, or thwart what any of them may in good faith do, to that end.
--June 23, 1863 Letter to John M. Schofield

"The emancipation proclamation applies to Arkansas. I think it is valid in law, and will be so held by the courts. I think I shall not retract or repudiate it. Those who shall have tasted actual freedom I believe can never be slaves, or quasi slaves again."
--July 31, 1863 Letter to Stephen A. Hurlburt

You dislike the emancipation proclamation; and, perhaps, would have it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional -- I think differently.
--August 26, 1863 Letter to James Conkling

But the proclamation, as law, either is valid, or is not valid. If it is not valid, it needs no retraction. If it is valid, it can not be retracted, any more than the dead can be brought to life.
--August 26, 1863 Letter to James Conkling

FREEDOM

On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been. When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that "all men are created equal" a self evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim "a self evident lie."
--August 15, 1855 Letter to George Robertson

I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal.
--July 10, 1858 Speech at Chicago, Illinois

Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere.
--September 11, 1858 Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.
--April 6, 1859 Letter to Henry Pierce

I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
--February 22, 1861 Address in Independence Hall

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
--August 22, 1862 Letter to Horace Greeley

In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.
--December 1, 1862 Message to Congress

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.
--November 19, 1863 Gettysburg Address

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.
--April 18, 1864 Address at Baltimore

"We have, as all will agree, a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed."
--August 22, 1864 Speech to the One Hundred Sixty-fourth Ohio Regiment

Every advocate of slavery naturally desires to see blasted, and crushed, the liberty promised the black man by the new constitution.
--November 14, 1864 Letter to Stephen A. Hurlbut

>>For quotations on liberty click here.

GRIEF

In the untimely loss of your noble son, our affliction here, is scarcely less than your own. So much of promised usefulness to one's country, and of bright hopes for one's self and friends, have rarely been so suddenly dashed, as in his fall.
--May 25, 1861 Letter to Ephraim D. and Phoebe Ellsworth

In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares.
--December 23, 1862 Letter to Fanny McCullough

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
--Nov. 21, 1864 Letter to Lydia Bixby

HONESTY

In very truth he was, the noblest work of God -- an honest man.
--February 8, 1842 Eulogy of Benjamin Ferguson

I believe it is an established maxim in morals that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false, is guilty of falsehood; and the accidental truth of the assertion, does not justify or excuse him.
--August 11, 1846 Letter to Allen N. Ford

Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief -- resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.
--July 1, 1850 [?] Notes for a Law Lecture

LAW

Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.
--January 27, 1838 Lyceum Address

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap -- let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; -- let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.
--January 27, 1838 Lyceum Address

In law it is a good policy to never plead what you need not, lest you oblige yourself to prove what you can not.
--February 20, 1848 Letter to Usher Linder

The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day.
--July 1, 1850 [?] Notes for a Law Lecture

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser -- in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.
--July 1, 1850 [?] Notes for a Law Lecture

Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereon to stir up strife, and put money in his pocket?
--July 1, 1850 [?] Notes for a Law Lecture

Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief -- resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.
--July 1, 1850 [?] Notes for a Law Lecture

>>For Lincoln's advice to lawyers click here.

PEACE

Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling.
--November 20, 1860 Remarks at Springfield, Illinois

The man does not live who is more devoted to peace than I am. None who would do more to preserve it.
--February 21, 1861 Address to the New Jersey General Assembly

I have desired as sincerely as any man -- I sometimes think more than any other man -- that our present difficulties might be settled without the shedding of blood.
--April 26, 1861 Address to the Frontier Guard

Engaged, as I am, in a great war, I fear it will be difficult for the world to understand how fully I appreciate the principles of peace, inculcated in this letter, and everywhere, by the Society of Friends.
--March 19, 1862 Letter to Samuel B. Tobey

Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time.
--August 26, 1863 Letter to James Conkling

Much is being said about peace; and no man desires peace more ardently than I. Still I am yet unprepared to give up the Union for a peace which, so achieved, could not be of much duration.
--September 12, 1864 Letter to Isaac Schermerhorn

In stating a single condition of peace, I mean simply to say that the war will cease on the part of the government, whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it.
--December 6, 1864 Annual Message to Congress

PERSUASION

When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim, that a "drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall."
--February 22, 1842 Temperance Address

POLITICAL OFFICE

Being elected to Congress, though I am very grateful to our friends, for having done it, has not pleased me as much as I expected.
--October 22, 1846 Letter to Joshua Speed

The Presidency, even to the most experienced politicians, is no bed of roses; and Gen. Taylor like others, found thorns within it. No human being can fill that station and escape censure.
--July 25, 1850 Eulogy on Zachary Taylor

I am glad I made the late race. It gave me a hearing on the great and durable question of the age, which I could have had in no other way; and though I now sink out of view, and shall be forgotten, I believe I have made some marks which will tell for the cause of civil liberty long after I am gone.
--November 19, 1858 Letter to Anson G. Henry

Always a whig in politics, and generally on the whig electoral tickets, making active canvasses--I was losing interest in politics, when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused me again.
--December 20, 1859 Autobiography

We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten, before we take the offices.
--January 11, 1861 Letter to James T. Hale

I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice; and have received a great deal of kindness, not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it.
--November 2, 1863 Letter to James H. Hackett

I am thankful to God for this approval of the people. But while deeply grateful for this mark of their confidence in me, if I know my heart, my gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph. I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over any one; but I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people's resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity.
--November 8, 1864 Response to a Serenade

REASON

Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.
--January 27, 1838 Lyceum Address

Happy day, when, all appetites controlled, all poisons subdued, all matter subjected, mind, all conquering mind, shall live and move the monarch of the world. Glorious consummation! Hail fall of Fury! Reign of Reason, all hail!
--February 22, 1842 Temperance Address

RELIGION

That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or any denomination of Christians in particular.
--July 31, 1846 Handbill Replying to Charges of Infidelity

I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion.
--July 31, 1846 Handbill Replying to Charges of Infidelity

In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.
--August 17, 1858 Speech at Lewistown, Illinois

To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
--February 11, 1861 Farewell Address

Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.
--March 4, 1861 First Inaugural Address

The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong.
--September 1862 Meditation on the Divine Will

If I had had my way, this war would never have been commenced; If I had been allowed my way this war would have ended before this, but we find it still continues; and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that he who made the world still governs it.
--October 26, 1862 Reply to Eliza Gurney

Nevertheless, amid the greatest difficulties of my Administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance on God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right.
--October 24, 1863 Remarks to the Baltimore Presbyterian Synod

On principle I dislike an oath which requires a man to swear he has not done wrong. It rejects the Christian principle of forgiveness on terms of repentance. I think it is enough if the man does no wrong hereafter.
--February 5, 1864 Memorandum to Secretary Stanton

If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.
--April 4, 1864 Letter to Albert Hodges

To read in the Bible, as the word of God himself, that "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread," and to preach therefrom that, "In the sweat of other mans faces shalt thou eat bread," to my mind can scarcely be reconciled with honest sincerity.
--May 30, 1864 Letter to George Ide and Others

I am very glad indeed to see you to-night, and yet I will not say I thank you for this call, but I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called.
--July 7, 1864 Response to a Serenade

Enough is known of Army operations within the last five days to claim our especial gratitude to God; while what remains undone demands our most sincere prayers to, and reliance upon, Him, without whom, all human effort is vain.
--May 10, 1864 Telegram Press Release

We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein.
--September 4, 1864 Letter to Eliza Gurney

I am much indebted to the good Christian people of the country for their constant prayers and consolations; and to no one of them, more than to yourself.
--September 4, 1864 Letter to Eliza Gurney

All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.
--September 7, 1864 Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible

Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.
--March 4, 1865 Inaugural Address

Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world.
--March 15, 1865 Letter to Thurlow Weed

>>For more religious quotations click here.

RESPONSIBILITY

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.
--February 27, 1860 Cooper Union Address

May the Almighty grant that the cause of truth, justice, and humanity, shall in no wise suffer at my hands.
--May 21, 1860 Letter to Joshua Giddings

I am not at liberty to shift ground -- that is out of the question. If I thought a repetition would do any good I would make it. But my judgment is it would do positive harm. The secessionists, per se believing they had alarmed me, would clamor all the louder.
--November 16, 1860 Letter to Nathaniel Paschall

I fully appreciate the present peril the country is in, and the weight of responsibility on me.
--December 22, 1860 Letter to Alexander Stephens

I appeal to you again to constantly bear in mind that with you, and not with politicians, not with Presidents, not with office-seekers, but with you, is the question, "Shall the Union and shall the liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generation?"
--February 11, 1861 Speech to Gov. Morton in Indianapolis

I am a patient man -- always willing to forgive on the Christian terms of repentance; and also to give ample time for repentance. Still I must save this government if possible.
--July 17, 1862 Letter to Reverdy Johnson

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.
--December 1, 1862 Message to Congress

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disentrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
--December 1, 1862 Message to Congress

In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.
--December 1, 1862 Message to Congress

I have understood well that the duty of self-preservation rests solely with the American people.
--January 19, 1863 Letter to the Workingmen of England

My purpose is to be, in my action, just and constitutional; and yet practical, in performing the important duty, with which I am charged, of maintaining the unity, and the free principles of our common country.
--August 7, 1863 Letter to Horatio Seymour

I freely acknowledge myself the servant of the people, according to the bond of service -- the United States Constitution; and that, as such, I am responsible to them.
--August 26, 1863 Letter to James Conkling

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan...
--March 4, 1865 Inaugural Address

SLAVERY

If as the friends of colonization hope, the present and coming generations of our countrymen shall by any means, succeed in freeing our land from the dangerous presence of slavery; and, at the same time, in restoring a captive people to their long-lost father-land, with bright prospects for the future; and this too, so gradually, that neither races nor individuals shall have suffered by the change, it will indeed be a glorious consummation.
--July 6, 1852 Eulogy on Henry Clay

Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man's nature -- opposition to it is in his love of justice. These principles are an eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision so fiercely, as slavery extension brings them, shocks, and throes, and convulsions must ceaselessly follow. Repeal the Missouri Compromise -- repeal all compromises -- repeal the declaration of independence -- repeal all past history, you still can not repeal human nature. It still will be the abundance of man's heart, that slavery extension is wrong; and out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth will continue to speak.
--October 16, 1854 Speech at Peoria

The Autocrat of all the Russias will resign his crown, and proclaim his subjects free republicans sooner than will our American masters voluntarily give up their slaves.
--August 15, 1855 Letter to George Robertson

You know I dislike slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it.
--August 24, 1855 Letter to Joshua Speed

The slave-breeders and slave-traders, are a small, odious and detested class, among you; and yet in politics, they dictate the course of all of you, and are as completely your masters, as you are the master of your own negroes.
--August 24, 1855 Letter to Joshua Speed

I believe this Government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
--June 16, 1858 House Divided Speech

I have always hated slavery, I think as much as any Abolitionist.
--July 10, 1858 Speech at Chicago

Now I confess myself as belonging to that class in the country who contemplate slavery as a moral, social and political evil...
--October 7, 1858 Debate at Galesburg, Illinois

He [Stephen Douglas] is blowing out the moral lights around us, when he contends that whoever wants slaves has a right to hold them; that he is penetrating, so far as lies in his power, the human soul, and eradicating the light of reason and the love of liberty, when he is in every possible way preparing the public mind, by his vast influence, for making the institution of slavery perpetual and national.
--October 7, 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Galesburg, Illinois

When Judge Douglas says that whoever, or whatever community, wants slaves, they have a right to have them, he is perfectly logical if there is nothing wrong in the institution; but if you admit that it is wrong, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong.
--October 13, 1858 Debate at Quincy, Illinois

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave.
--April 6, 1859 Letter to Henry Pierce

Now what is Judge Douglas' Popular Sovereignty? It is, as a principle, no other than that, if one man chooses to make a slave of another man, neither that other man nor anybody else has a right to object.
--September 16, 1859 Speech in Columbus, Ohio

An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of property in a slave in not "distinctly and expressly affirmed" in it.
--February 27, 1860 Speech at the Cooper Institute

We believe that the spreading out and perpetuity of the institution of slavery impairs the general welfare. We believe -- nay, we know, that that is the only thing that has ever threatened the perpetuity of the Union itself.
--September 17, 1859 Speech in Cincinnati, Ohio

Let there be no compromise on the question of extending slavery. If there be, all our labor is lost, and, ere long, must be done again.
--December 10, 1860 Letter to Lyman Trumbull

You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us.
--December 22, 1860 Letter to Alexander Stephens

I say now, however, as I have all the while said, that on the territorial question -- that is, the question of extending slavery under the national auspices, -- I am inflexible. I am for no compromise which assists or permits the extension of the institution on soil owned by the nation.
--February 1, 1861 Letter to William H. Seward

One section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended.
--March 4, 1861 Inaugural Address

I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling.
--April 4, 1864 Letter to Albert Hodges

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war.
--March 4, 1865 Inaugural Address

SOLDIERS

Then came the Black-Hawk war; and I was elected a Captain of Volunteers -- a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since.
--December 20, 1859 Autobiography

The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoring the Union. The bare sight of fifty thousand armed, and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi, would end the rebellion at once.
--March 26, 1863 Letter to Andrew Johnson

I would like to speak in terms of praise due to the many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the war.
--July 7, 1863 Response to a Serenade

We never should, and I am sure, never shall be niggard of gratitude and benefaction to the soldiers who have endured toil, privations and wounds, that the nation may live.
--August 10, 1863 Letter to Mrs. Hunter et al

And then, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonnet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation...
--August 26, 1863 Letter to James Conkling

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
--November 19, 1863 Gettysburg Address

While we are grateful to all the brave men and officers for the events of the past few days, we should, above all, be very grateful to Almighty God, who gives us victory.
--May 9, 1864 Response to a Serenade

I am greatly obliged to you, and to all who have come forward at the call of their country.
--August 22, 1864 Speech to the One Hundred Sixty-fourth Ohio Regiment

>>For quotations on military tributes click here.

UNION

All this talk about the dissolution of the Union is humbug -- nothing but folly. We WON'T dissolve the Union, and you SHAN'T.
--July 23, 1856 Speech at Galena, Illinois

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
--June 16, 1858 House Divided Speech

To the best of my judgment I have labored for, and not against the Union.
--October 29, 1858 Speech at Springfield, Illinois

...my opinion is that no state can, in any way lawfully, get out of the Union, without the consent of the others; and that it is the duty of the President, and other government functionaries to run the machine as it is.
--December 17, 1860 Letter to Thurlow Weed

When the people rise in masses in behalf of the Union and the liberties of their country, truly may it be said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against them."
--February 11, 1861 Reply to Governor Morton

I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments.
--March 4, 1861 Inaugural Address

I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken; and to the extent of my ability I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States.
--March 4, 1861 Inaugural Address

The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
--March 4, 1861 Inaugural Address

The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
--March 4, 1861 Inaugural Address

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was."
--August 22, 1862 Letter to Horace Greeley

We can scarcely dispense with the aid of West-Virginia in this struggle; much less can we afford to have her against us, in congress and in the field. Her brave and good men regard her admission into the Union as a matter of life and death.
--December 31, 1862 Opinion on the Admission of West Virginia into the Union

WAR

He who does something at the head of one Regiment, will eclipse him who does nothing at the head of a hundred.
--December 31, 1861 Letter to David Hunter

And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.
--January 26, 1863 Letter to Joseph Hooker

Let your military measures be strong enough to repel the invader and keep the peace, and not so strong as to unnecessarily harrass and persecute the people.
--May 27, 1863 Letter to John M. Schofield

I was deeply mortified by the escape of Lee across the Potomac, because the substantial destruction of his army would have ended the war...
--July 21, 1863 Letter to Oliver O. Howard

You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but, no matter. Fight you, then exclusively to save the Union.
--August 26, 1863 Letter to James Conkling

We are in civil war. In such cases there always is a main question; but in this case that question is a perplexing compound -- Union and Slavery. It thus becomes a question not of two sides merely, but of at least four sides, even among those who are for the Union, saying nothing of those who are against it.
--October 5, 1863 Letter to Charles Drake et al

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
--November 19, 1863 Gettysburg Address

It is easy to see that, under the sharp discipline of civil war, the nation is beginning a new life.
--December 8, 1863 Message to Congress

War at the best, is terrible, and this war of ours, in its magnitude and in its duration, is one of the most terrible.
--June 16, 1864 Speech at Philadelphia

The true rule for the Military is to seize such property as is needed for Military uses and reasons, and let the rest alone.
--January 20, 1865 Letter to Joseph J. Reynolds

Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came .... Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.
--March 4, 1865 Inaugural Address

Gen. Sheridan says "If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender." Let the thing be pressed.
--April 7, 1865 Telegram to General Grant

WORK

We know, Southern men declare that their slaves are better off than hired laborers amongst us. How little they know, whereof they speak! There is no permanent class of hired laborers amongst us ... Free labor has the inspiration of hope; pure slavery has no hope.
--ca. September 17, 1859 Fragment on Free Labor

Every man is proud of what he does well; and no man is proud of what he does not do well. With the former, his heart is in his work; and he will do twice as much of it with less fatigue. The latter performs a little imperfectly, looks at it in disgust, turns from it, and imagines himself exceedingly tired. The little he has done, comes to nothing, for want of finishing.
--September 30, 1859 Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society

By the "mud-sill" theory it is assumed that labor and education are incompatible; and any practical combination of them impossible. According to that theory, a blind horse upon a tread-mill, is a perfect illustration of what a laborer should be -- all the better for being blind, that he could not tread out of place, or kick understandingly. According to that theory, the education of laborers, is not only useless, but pernicious, and dangerous. In fact, it is, in some sort, deemed a misfortune that laborers should have heads at all.
--September 30, 1859 Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society

Every blade of grass is a study; and to produce two, where there was but one, is both a profit and a pleasure.
--September 30, 1859 Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society

This leads to the further reflection, that no other human occupation opens so wide a field for the profitable and agreeable combination of labor with cultivated thought, as agriculture. I know of nothing so pleasant to the mind, as the discovery of anything which is at once new and valuable -- nothing which so lightens and sweetens toil, as the hopeful pursuit of such discovery. And how vast, and how varied a field is agriculture, for such discovery. The mind, already trained to thought, in the country school, or higher school, cannot fail to find there an exhaustless source of profitable enjoyment.
--September 30, 1859 Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society

I don't believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. So while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else.
--March 6, 1860 Speech at New Haven, Connecticut

The point you press -- the importance of thorough organization -- is felt, and appreciated by our friends everywhere. And yet it involves so much more of the dry, and irksome labor, that most of them shrink from it...
--September 1, 1860 Letter to Henry Wilson

The lady -- bearer of this -- says she has two sons who want to work. Set them at it, if possible. Wanting to work is so rare a merit, that it should be encouraged.
--October 17, 1861 Letter to George Ramsay


Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.

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