Today we owe a hat tip to Dan’l Mackey Almy of DMA Solutions. She read our piece entitled, Great Expectations for President Obama, and it led her to send us a note that included a quotation:
Great article. Very good and much needed. I recently saw this quote and thought of it when I read this post this morning…
“I am not concerned that you have fallen. I am concerned that you arise,” said President Abraham Lincoln to his nation divided by the Civil War.
In no way are we facing struggles compared to the Civil War, but in modern times our struggles are real. Now that we have endured 18 months of constant reminders of the bad times we are in, I do hope Obama can help the country “arise”. I too, struggle, with the fact that A LOT of people who voted for Obama are expecting freebies… that is just unconceivable to me, but I know it is true.
I hope as Barack Obama turns his promises into actions and wrestles with the realities and constraints of being President, he does not disappoint his many followers and fuel even more a negative divide in the country.
I also hope that when he states “distribution of wealth,” that includes “distribution of accountability and willingness to work hard”.
— Dan’l Mackey Almy
DMA Solutions, Inc.
Well, coming from Lincoln, the sentiments would certainly be apropos to Republicans after the shellacking they took in the election. It also is true that it is a shortcoming of our politics that whether things are good or bad, whichever party is out of power has the strong incentive to portray whatever situation we are in as the worst of times.
The very cadence of the lines seems to fit with Lincoln’s prose, and one can easily imagine him using such words to one of his failing generals. But it is hard to imagine him saying such a thing to the nation as it distances him from the nation.
We don’t recall Lincoln ever referring to the population as “you” — it was always “we” or “our” as in “Four score and seven years ago OUR fathers …” or “Now WE are engaged in a great civil war…”
We asked Pundit Aide-de-Camp James Elmer to investigate the providence of this quote and the evidence that it was ever uttered by Lincoln:
Dan’l probably found the quote along with another quote from C.H. Spurgeon on page 273 of Speaker’s Sourcebook II: Quotes, Stories and Anecdotes for Every Occasionby Glenn Van Ekeren (Longman Higher Education 1988). There are no electronically searchable copies online through Google Books or Amazon. They have been intentionally blocked by the publisher, so I visited several libraries to find copies and discovered the quote appears exactly in the Speaker’s Sourcebook as it does in Dan’l’s email.
See a photocopy attached here.
The book is filled with exactly what the title describes and none of it is properly sourced. At first glance, what we see is a solid block of text, with Charles H. Spurgeon attributed as the author. My determination is that this piece of quotation text is at best an editing error, and at worst, yet another example of inaccurate quote attribution perpetuated by careless authors and editors. We’ll leave the Spurgeon quote for another day and look at the Lincoln quote.
*An interesting side note, Ekeren also published “The Speaker’s Sourcebook II — Quotes, Stories and Anecdotes for Every Occasion” in 1994, and while it does contain Spurgeon and Lincoln quotes, these specific ones were not reprinted from the 1988 version. Perhaps the publisher realized there had been an error?
In the book published in 2004, Embracing Eternity: Living Each Day With a Heart Toward Heaven, by Tim LaHaye, the author says:
“I heard once that a general wrote to Abraham Lincoln about a battle his troops had lost. Lincoln wrote back, ‘I’m aware that you have fallen. My concern is that you arise.’
Hardly a scholarly endorsement for the authorship of Lincoln, and LaHaye gives us no evidence whatsoever to support this anecdote. My guess is that he made it up, or someone made it up somewhere and told him. It is easy to think of this quote in the context of Lincoln hoping to inspire a wounded general to fight.
In The Atlas of the Civil War, President Lincoln writes this letter in July of 1863 to General George Mead, prodding him to pursue retreating Confederates after the battle of Gettysburg:
“My dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection worth our late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely.”
It seems as if Lincoln sounded angry rather than concerned and inspirational in letters to ineffective generals.
In another book “Moments Together for Weathering Life’s Storms” the quote is printed on page 63. We see this gem again, unsourced, and the section is titled “Day 23, The Fear of Failure”:
“In an Address to a nation divided by the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln underscored the need to persevere in spite of failure. He said, “I am not concerned that you have fallen. I am concerned that you arise.”
This sounds familiar, as it is the same story told to us in the “Speakers Sourcebook”. So we now have an anecdote of Lincoln writing these words in a letter to a general and another version in which Lincoln addresses the nation with these words. These two books are the only ones found, which hope to give any background to the quote.
Google Books searches for the quote itself; pieces and variations of it do not turn up anything that predates 2002, with the lone exception of 1988’s The Speaker’s Sourcebook, which cannot be found electronically. All of the books that have printed this quote are of the “self-help” and “unsourced quote collection” varieties.
A much appreciated wealth of historical works concerning Lincoln are available through Google Books. I’ve been able to electronically search through these endless volumes, below ranging in publish date from 1864 to 1917. None give any indication that Lincoln said, addressed or wrote anything similar to our quote. Here’s a short bibliography of some of the sources I searched through.
Beyond the 1988 Speaker’s Sourcebook, the earliest found reference to this Lincoln quote is a “dead” hyperlink that appears at the bottom of this page, which belongs to a site filled with famous quotations.
This “source” is awkwardly displayed as html code for a hyperlink that isn’t even functional. Contained within this inoperable link are mentions of “The Ultimate Success Quotations Library” and the year 1997, which we are left to guess is the written work and publish date where they attribute finding the source of our Lincoln quote.
[Coincidentally, this “Quotations Library” that they tout as the source is produced by the authors of the website themselves, the Cyber Nation folks out of Reno, Nevada. According to them, the collection allegedly used to sell for $79.95, but is now free. The final indignation is that a picture of Lincoln in repose on the Lincoln Memorial is used on the packaging box!]
So, ever since the popular emergence of the Internet, which I remember as being around 1997, this quote has appeared exactly as submitted by Dan’l, on this site, incorrectly of course, and probably copied from there into infinity. By 1997, it could very easily have been copied from The Speaker’s Sourcebook, since the text appears exactly the same in both places.
My final conclusion is thus: Based on the overwhelming documentation that is available and searchable on everything Lincoln said and wrote from his time as a lawyer until his death as President, there is nothing that even remotely connects this quote to anything uttered by Lincoln.
Which just goes to show that reality is often more disappointing than the fictions we might like to believe. Still, whoever came up with the phrase, there is wisdom there as, in fact, falling down is part of life. If you haven’t fallen a time or two, it probably means you never took a risk. In any case worrying about what has already happened isn’t typically very useful. The key to progress is making sure that the beatings don’t beat you down so much that you don’t get up to fight anew.
Good advice in 2008 for Republicans and useful to us all throughout our lives.
Many thanks to James Elmer for his in-depth study and to Dan’l Mackay Almy of DMA solutions for passing on the quote.