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Fact check: False quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln is distortion of an 1838 speech

A quote falsely attributed to Abraham Lincoln saying that America will be destroyed from the inside not the outside is circulating online. Several Lincoln scholars confirmed to Reuters that this quote is fabricated. However, it is similar to a remark he made at a speech in 1838.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves – Abraham Lincoln,” says the quote, shared over 4,000 times ( here  ,  here  ,  here  ,  here ).

The quote is commonly misattributed to Lincoln: at least three U.S. Senators have attributed it to Lincoln during Senate discussions and it has therefore been entered under the Congressional record, as seen herehere  and here . Former President Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, also said the quote at the 2020 Republican National Convention ( here  ,  here  , here  ).

Christian McWhirter, Lincoln Historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and museum (ALPLM) ( here  ,  here ); Michael Burlingame, holder of the Chancellor Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at University of Illinois Springfield here ); and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, co-chairman of The Lincoln Forum, and former Chairman of The Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission  (www.haroldholzer.com/), confirmed to Reuters via email that the quote is a distortion of Lincoln’s Lyceum Address on January 27, 1838 to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois (seen here  and here ).

In the Lyceum address Lincoln said, “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.”

McWhirter told Reuters that Lincoln’s main subject in this speech, which is generally considered to be Lincoln’s first great speech, was ‘The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions’: “By that, he meant he was concerned about a recent rise in extra-legal, mob violence in America. […] Lincoln believed America’s young democratic institutions were fragile […] and advised his audience that their political concerns could only be properly addressed through the law. Although mob action may seem expedient, it ultimately damages the rule of law, and with it the Constitution, and with that democracy itself. Thus, the reference to national “suicide.””

A search for the exact quote shared on social media revealed no results in an online version of the 1891 book “Abraham Lincoln’s Speeches. Complete” (here) . The quote is also absent from the National Archives database, which includes thousands of records from the founding fathers here  .

The quote has been debunked by other fact checking organizations, including Snopes in June 2019 here  , PolitiFact in July 2019 here  , Lead Stories in October 2019 here and AFP in June 2020  here  .

VERDICT

Partly false. Lincoln experts Christian McWhirter, Michael Burlingame and Harold Holzer told Reuters that Lincoln did not say these exact words, instead they are a distortion of his 1838 Lyceum Address.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .

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