Practically starting the moment he uttered the syllables, Abraham Lincoln’s words of wisdom have served to illuminate the course of America, and to encourage every person to be the best version of him or herself.
His wit, intelligence and eloquence have been highlighted many times throughout history. In one such case, a newspaper ran a selection of his sayings under the headline “Lincoln’s words carry lessons for today. The introduction to the article, published in Utah’s Salt Lake Tribune on February 13, 1951, read, “Many sayings and writings of Abraham Lincoln have a freshness and timeliness as they were occasioned by present-day conflicts and problems.”
Two-thirds of a century later — and more than 150 years since the former President’s death — the man’s sayings remain as relevant as ever. Whether he’s discussing justice, or just offering insight into the human condition, his words deserve to be remembered.
Here, we present a selection of Abraham Lincoln quotes from throughout his distinguished career, gathered from antique books.
Abraham Lincoln’s sayings about leadership, government, patriotism, personal responsibility & more
Abraham Lincoln quotes on leadership
They were pillars of the temple of liberty; and now that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of their sober reason.
We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last, best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.
The struggle of today is not altogether for today: it is for a vast future also.
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, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one. On the contrary, assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and though your cause be naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel, and sharper than steel can be made, and though you throw it with more than Herculean force and precision, you shall be no more able to pierce him than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.
Self-improvement quotes from Abraham Lincoln
Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who know me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.
Never encourage deceit and falsehood, especially if you have got a bad memory; it is the worst enemy a fellow can have. The fact is, truth is your truest friend, no matter what the circumstances are.
Allow me to assure you that suspicion and jealousy never did help any man in any situation.
Your thousand pretenses for not getting along better are all nonsense; they deceive nobody but yourself.
Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.
When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that’s my religion.
Abraham Lincoln quotes on wealth and poverty
Wealth is a superfluity of what we don’t need.
Let no man who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own will be safe from violence when built.
No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned.
Our people are fast approaching the point where it can be said that seven-eighths of them are trying to find out how to live at the expense of the other eighth.
Abraham Lincoln quotes on slavery & the Civil War
Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.
Familiarize yourself with the chains of bondage, and you prepare your own limbs to wear them.
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.
Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature; opposition to it, in his love of justice. These principles are an eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision, so fiercely as slavery extension brings them, shocks, throes, and convulsions must ceaselessly follow.
I can no more be persuaded that the Government can constitutionally take no strong measures in time of rebellion, because it can be shown that the same could not be lawfully taken in time of peace, than I can be persuaded that a particular drug is not good medicine for a sick man, because it can be shown not to be good food for a well one.
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone 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.
The man who stands by and says nothing, when the peril of his Government is discussed, cannot be misunderstood. If not hindered, he is sure to help the enemy.
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.
I know the American People are much attached to their Government; — I know they would suffer much for its sake; — I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.
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. As the patriots of ’76 did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and laws let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor — let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own and his children’s liberty.
I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny.
Gold is good in its place; but loving, brave, patriotic men are better than gold.
They [the Revolutionary fathers] were pillars of the temple of liberty; and now that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.
The true rule, in determining to embrace or reject anything, is not whether it have any evil in it, but whether it have more of evil than of good. There are few things wholly evil or wholly good. Almost everything, especially of government policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded. (1848)
Our popular government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it our people have already settled — the successful establishing and the successful administering of it. One still remains — its successful maintenance against formidable internal attempts to overthrow it. It is now for them to demonstrate to the world, that those who can fairly carry on an election can also suppress a rebellion; that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided, there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal except to ballots themselves at succeeding elections.
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. We say we are tor the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power and bear the responsibility. 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 on earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.
I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.
The smallest are often the most difficult things to deal with.
Were it not for an occasional joke, I should die.
The way for a young man to rise is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that anybody wishes to hinder him.
God bless my mother! All I am or hope to be I owe to her.
Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you, in hot haste, to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it.
Calling a sheep’s tail a leg doesn’t make it so.
He who does something at the head of one regiment will eclipse him who does nothing at the head of a hundred.
I would despise myself if I supposed myself ready to deal less liberally with an adversary than I was willing to be treated myself.
I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to the light I have.
Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.
Great distance in either time or space has wonderful power to lull and render quiescent the human mind.
I have found that when one is embarrassed, usually the shortest way to get through with it is to quit talking or thinking about it, and go at something else.
Many have got into a habit of being dissatisfied.
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.
When a man hears himself somewhat misrepresented, it provokes him — at least, I find it so with myself; but when misrepresentation becomes very gross and palpable, it is more apt to amuse him.