Abe Lincoln: Fool Some of the People

There’s a lot to be said for the old adage, “You can fool all of the Buzzkillers some of the time, and some of the Buzzkillers all of the time, but you cannot fool all Buzzkillers all of the time.” You Buzzkillers are just too intelligent and thoughtful to be taken in by snake-oil salesmen trying to convince you of historical myths and misquotations.

I am, therefore, fully confident that you’ve always been skeptical that President Abraham Lincoln ever said this. And I’m right to be so confident. You weren’t fooled. There is no evidence that Honest Abe ever said this, and even when it’s been attributed to him, those making the attribution have not been able to say where and when Lincoln supposedly said this. It appears nowhere in Lincoln’s writings, and, more significantly, it cannot be found in any of the voluminous transcriptions of Lincoln’s public statements and speeches. Even the extensive reporting of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 make no mention of this quote.

Quotation scholars have traced the original idea to a 17th century French Protestant minister named Jacques Abbadie. His 1684 “Treatise on the Truth of the Christian Religion,” included the following passage:

One can fool some men, or fool all men in some places and times, but one cannot fool all men in all places and ages.

It’s not clear how and when ideas behind this adage came to be known in the English language, and in American political parlance. The earliest examples in the United States come from the 1880s, specifically coming from two meetings of the Prohibition Party. In both cases, the prohibitionists referred to the following as an Abe Lincoln original:

“You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”

But as we’ve said so many times before, there’s no evidence that Lincoln ever said this. Like a dozen or so other famous historical figures, certain types of quotes just seem to get attached to President Lincoln. If they have a homespun wisdom sort of tone to them, the mis-quoters among us flip a coin to decide whether to attribute it to Lincoln or to Mark Twain. In this instance, President Lincoln won that decision.

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