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9 Popular Quotes Commonly Misattributed to Abe Lincoln

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Known widely as a great orator, Abraham Lincoln said (and wrote) many inspiring things during his life and presidency. From the “House Divided” speech to his lesser-known letters and writings, there are plenty of motivational phrases to be found. However, in the decades and centuries following his death, many quotes have been wrongly attributed and disseminated in various publications, with the Internet spurring it all on. Prepare to be disappointed: Here are nine quotes you thought were by Honest Abe, but actually aren’t.

1. “Most folks are about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

This quote was first attributed to Lincoln in 1914—50 years after his death—as part of a column in the Syracuse Herald written by Dr. Frank Crane about New Year’s resolutions. Following that instance, it appeared in many other publications attributed to the president, but no evidence exists to suggest those attributions are correct.

2. “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

First attributed to Lincoln about 80 years following his death in a compendium of inspiring quotations, credit for this quote should actually go elsewhere. Laurence Hutton wrote a memoir in 1897 in which he described meeting William Makepeace Thackeray, during which meeting Thackeray is quoted as saying, “Whatever you are, try to be a good one.” The accuracy of even that attribution, however, depends on the accuracy of Hutton’s memory while penning his memoir.

3. “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

This quote is often attributed to Winston Churchill as well as Lincoln, but was first found in a 1953 book on public speaking, where it wasn’t credited at all. Similarly phrased quotes (“In short they go from failure to failure, but always on the up-grade”) were found in articles as early as 1913, but by the 1980s it was wrongly being ascribed to Churchill. In 2001, a newspaper in New Orleans attributed it to Lincoln, the first association of his name with the quote.

4. “Great things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

Despite many references on the Internet to Lincoln saying this quote, there is no evidence to support it. Within The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, he says the phrase “things may” only three times, and never says “things may come,” “things left,” or the word “hustle.” Furthermore, in Lincoln’s era, “hustle” meant to obtain something rather than to put in an energetic effort.

5. “You can’t fool all the people all the time.”

While first used by politicians in relatively the same era as Abraham Lincoln, no evidence exists that suggests Lincoln said this quote himself. Its earliest use was in French in 1684 in Traité de la Vérité de la Religion Chrétienne, a work of apologetics by Jacques Abbadie, a French Protestant. The quote wasn’t attributed to Lincoln until 1886 in an article in the Springfield Globe-Republic, and was widely disseminated after that.

6. “Here I stand—warts and all.”

George H.W. Bush attributed this quote to Abraham Lincoln in 1988. In reality, it was a mash-up of two other famous people’s phrases: “Here I stand,” part of Martin Luther’s popular phrase, “Here I stand. I can do no other,” and, “warts and all,” attributed to Oliver Cromwell who is said to have said something to that effect to a painter when commissioning a portrait.

7. “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

There is a biblical proverb that is similar to this phrase, Proverbs 17:28:

"Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue."

In 1931, this quote was attributed to Lincoln in The Yale Book of Quotations, which turned out to be the first (and very late) instance where it appeared as credited to the president. The quote is also widely attributed to Mark Twain, though there is little evidence of this, either. In fact, in the 2001 Ken Burns documentary on the author, a companion book was released in which this phrase was listed in a section titled “What Twain Didn’t Say.” A similar quote was included in 1907 in Mrs. Goose, Her Book, by Maurice Switzer, so he is usually credited with coining the phrase.

8. “You can’t build a little guy up by tearing a big guy down.”

Most recently misquoted by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, this quote was originally written by Rev. William J. H. Boetcker, who was published in a pamphlet alongside Lincoln quotations in 1916, and the quote was confused as one of Lincoln’s sayings.

9. "You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.”

Like the quote about the inability to build someone up by bringing someone else down, this quote should also be attributed to Rev. Boetcker, thanks to that same pamphlet confusion.

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 118th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."

Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."

Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."

By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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13 Nikola Tesla Quotes for His Birthday
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The greatest geek who ever lived was born 161 years ago today. While he was alive, Tesla’s advancements were frequently and famously attributed to others. But history has shown us the magnitude of his work, a sentiment best expressed by Fiorello LaGuardia’s eulogy: “Tesla is not really dead. Only his poor wasted body has been stilled. The real, the important part of Tesla lives in his achievement which is great, almost beyond calculation, an integral part of our civilization, of our daily lives.” Thanks for everything, Nikola Tesla, and Happy Birthday!

1. On gender equality:

“But the female mind has demonstrated a capacity for all the mental acquirements and achievements of men, and as generations ensue that capacity will be expanded; the average woman will be as well educated as the average man, and then better educated, for the dormant faculties of her brain will be stimulated to an activity that will be all the more intense and powerful because of centuries of repose. Woman will ignore precedent and startle civilization with their progress.”

From a 1926 interview by John B. Kennedy, “When Woman Is Boss."

2. On being American:

“...the papers, which thirty years ago conferred upon me the honor of American citizenship, are always kept in a safe, while my orders, diplomas, degrees, gold medals and other distinctions are packed away in old trunks.”

From “My Inventions V – The Magnifying Transmitter," 1919.

3. On being Serbian:

“There is something within me that might be illusion as it is often case with young delighted people, but if I would be fortunate to achieve some of my ideals, it would be on the behalf of the whole of humanity. If those hopes would become fulfilled, the most exciting thought would be that it is a deed of a Serb.”

From an address at the Belgrade train station, 1892.

4. On universal peace:

"We begin to think cosmically. Our sympathetic feelers reach out into the dim distance. The bacteria of the 'Weltschmerz' are upon us. So far, however, universal harmony has been attained only in a single sphere of international relationship. That is the postal service. Its mechanism is working satisfactorily, but—how remote are we still from that scrupulous respect of the sanctity of the mail bag!"

From “The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires as a Means for Furthering Peace,” 1905.

5. On his legacy:

“What the result of these investigations will be the future will tell; but whatever they may be, and to whatever this principle may lead, I shall be sufficiently recompensed if later it will be admitted that I have contributed a share, however small, to the advancement of science.”

From “The Tesla Alternate Current Motor,” 1888.

6. On patience and planning:

“That is the trouble with many inventors; they lack patience. They lack the willingness to work a thing out slowly and clearly and sharply in their mind, so that they can actually 'feel it work.' They want to try their first idea right off; and the result is they use up lots of money and lots of good material, only to find eventually that they are working in the wrong direction. We all make mistakes, and it is better to make them before we begin.”

From “Tesla, Man and Inventor,” 1895.

7. On aliens:

“Most certainly, some planets are not inhabited, but others are, and among these there must exist life under all conditions and phases of development.”

From “How to Signal to Mars,” 1910.

8. On individualism and mankind:

"When we speak of man, we have a conception of humanity as a whole, and before applying scientific methods to the investigation of his movement, we must accept this as a physical fact. But can anyone doubt to-day that all the millions of individuals and all the innumerable types and characters constitute an entity, a unit? Though free to think and act, we are held together, like the stars in the firmament, with ties inseparable. These ties cannot be seen, but we can feel them. I cut myself in the finger, and it pains me: this finger is a part of me. I see a friend hurt, and it hurts me, too: my friend and I are one. And now I see stricken down an enemy, a lump of matter which, of all the lumps of matter in the universe, I care least for, and it still grieves me. Does this not prove that each of us is only part of a whole?"

From “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy,” 1900.

9. On wastefulness:

“We build but to tear down. Most of our work and resource is squandered. Our onward march is marked by devastation. Everywhere there is an appalling loss of time, effort and life. A cheerless view, but true.”

From “What Science May Achieve this Year,” 1910.

10. On cleanliness:

“Everyone should consider his body as a priceless gift from one whom he loves above all, a marvelous work of art, of indescribable beauty, and mystery beyond human conception, and so delicate that a word, a breath, a look, nay, a thought may injure it. Uncleanliness, which breeds disease and death, is not only a self-destructive but highly immoral habit.”

From “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy," 1900.

11. On the technology of the future:

"It will soon be possible to transmit wireless messages around the world so simply that any individual can carry and operate his own apparatus."

From Popular Mechanics via the New York Times, October 1909.

12. On others taking credit for his inventions:

"Let the future tell the truth and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine."

As quoted in Tesla: Man Out of Time, by Margaret Cheney, 2001.

13. On the mysteries of life:

“Life is and will ever remain an equation incapable of solution, but it contains certain known factors.”

From “A Machine to End War,” 1935. [PDF]

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