Obama's Faulty Lincoln Quote
Barack Obama addressing a joint session of Congress in 2009. Credit: Pete Souza.
Barack Obama, in what was surely neither the first nor the last time in his political career, invoked Abraham Lincoln in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. "While I'm proud of what we've achieved together, I'm far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, 'I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.'"
The only problem is that there's no firm documentation that Lincoln said the quote. It was attributed to him by a reporter in 1865, but there's a long track record of Lincoln's final year being distorted by eyewitnesses. James M. Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Lincoln presidential library in Springfield, Illinois, wrote in the Daily Beast that Lincoln only ever uttered the word "knees" (the plural) four times in his entire public career, and there is absolutely no record of him ever saying the singular "knee."
Still, considering the fact that so many of Lincoln's pithiest one-liners are off-hand comments that are poorly sourced ("The Lord prefers common-looking people -- that is why he made so many of them" springs to mind; he made the remark to his secretary John Hay, where it appeared in Hay's memoir in 1890), and that political speechwriting is decidedly not the same as a PhD dissertation, Barack Obama's Lincoln misquote gets One Bachmann.
comments powered by Disqus
- Did a historian who said he’s a victim of McCarthyism get the story wrong?
- Stephanie Coontz’s work on the history of marriage cited by the Supreme Court.
- How Does It Feel To Have One’s Work as a Historian Cited by the Supreme Court? Cool. Very Cool. Thank You Very Much.
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- David Hackett Fischer wins $100,000 prize for lifetime achievement in military writing