Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Real Lincoln Quote?

At her site, Wisconsin lawprof and blogger Ann Althouse spots a pro-union protest sign that purports to quote the Great Emancipator: "All that serves labor serves the nation. All that harms it is TREASON! — Abraham Lincoln."

OK, you Lincoln scholars, fire up your engines. Is the quote real or bogus?


  1. This is a sham quote that as been printed and reprinted in union publications since the 1930s. Lincoln was not partial to hyperbolic, demagogic statements. The best expression of his views of labor and capital that I know of comes from his speech at Cincinnati on September 17, 1859:

    "Labor is the great source from which nearly all, if not all, human comforts and necessities are drawn. There is a difference in opinion about the elements of labor in society. Some men assume that there is a necessary connection between capital and labor, and that connection draws within it the whole of the labor of the community. They assume that nobody works unless capital excites them to work. They begin next to consider what is the best way. They say that there are but two ways; one is to hire men and to allure them to labor by their consent; the other is to buy the men and drive them to it, and that is slavery. Having assumed that, they proceed to discuss the question of whether the laborers themselves are better off in the condition of slaves or of hired laborers, and they usually decide that they are better off in the condition of slaves.

    In the first place, I say, that the whole thing is a mistake. That there is a certain relation between capital and labor, I admit. That it does exist, and rightfully exists, I think is true. That men who are industrious, and sober, and honest in the pursuit of their own interests should after a while accumulate capital, and after that should be allowed to enjoy it in peace, and also if they should choose when they have accumulated it to use it to save themselves from actual labor and hire other people to labor for them is right. In doing so they do not wrong the man they employ, for they find men who have not of their own land to work upon, or shops to work in, and who are benefited by working for others, hired laborers, receiving their capital for it. Thus a few men that own capital, hire a few others, and these establish the relation of capital and labor rightfully. A relation of which I make no complaint. But I insist that that relation after all does not embrace more than one-eighth of the labor of the country."

  2. CW,

    Thanks so much for your definitive and thorough answer. It didn't sound like Lincoln to me, but I was hoping that someone could respond with authority - and I was right!


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