After Rep. Allen West attributed one of Ronald Reagan's anti-abortion quotes to Abraham Lincoln earlier this week, you'll have to excuse us for being a bit skeptical when another politico comes to town attempting to channel Honest Abe.
That said, we went straight to the experts at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum after hearing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich deliver a line at a campaign rally in Coral Springs that he attributed to Lincoln.
Gingrich's reference checks out, but we found out that some politicians (ahem, Vice President Joe Biden) aren't too keen on getting their Lincolnisms correct.
James M. Cornelius, a PhD and the curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Illinois, noted to New Times that Gingrich's staffers have gone to him three times over the past year or two looking to verify Lincoln's actions or words.
President Obama's office has reached out to him twice, he says, but Biden -- not so much.
"We have never heard from V-P Biden's office, who misquotes Lincoln pretty regularly (I've heard him twice in person)," Cornelius says in an email.
Cornelius adds that an equal number of Democrats and Republicans reach out to him looking for Lincoln accuracy but notes, "we do NOT hear, ergo, from an equal number from either party who are loose with historical utterance and writing."
Ahem, Mr. Biden and Mr. West.
Gingrich, on the other hand, gets approval.
While dealing with a heckler at his Coral Springs campaign stop yesterday, Gingrich reached into his bag of historical references.
"Abraham Lincoln said if you're debating someone who will not agree that two plus two equals four, you'll never win," Gingrich said, per a Palm Beach Post report. "I think you just met Abraham Lincoln's debate nightmare."
Cornelius set the stage and pulled Lincoln's quote for us, which adds some pretty fascinating meaning to the phrase beyond its use in one-upping a heckler:
On Oct. 16, 1854 Lincoln gave the longest speech (ca. 3 hours) of his career, in Peoria, Illinois, finally answering the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act early that year, under the sponsorship of Senator Stephen A. Douglas (D-Ill.), Lincoln's age-old rival. This undercut the compromises of 1850, engineered in Congress by Sen. Henry Clay (Whig-KY), Lincoln's political hero, that stopped the further spread of slavery westward north of the 36' 30 degree line (the southern border of Missouri), in exchange for allowing California into the Union as a free state but New Mexico Terr. and Utah Terr. as slave-possible lands.
Douglas had been speaking around the state on his reasoning for allowing the overthrow of the 1850 laws with his new 1854 law, stating that every place in the Union had always had the theoretical right to allow slavery, or not. Lincoln took apart his logic, and in fact Douglas did cause the beginning of the split in the Democratic party with his argument, chiefly as it applied to Kansas (north of 36'30), a place riven by pro-slave and anti-slave settlers. This speech, along with his 27 Feb. 1860 speech at Cooper Institute in New York, are probably Lincoln's best-researched, most historically minded attacks on the pro-slavery faction.
Lincoln always referred to S.A.D. as 'Judge' since he had been a justice of the Illinois Supreme Court before he became senator; and this was a common courtesy for anyone formerly a judge.
The paragraph below is the conclusion of Lincoln's long speech. It was printed in its entirety over the course of 7 straight issues of the Illinois Stage Journal (Springfield), with Lincoln's permission, as approved by Lincoln from his own notes, late Oct. 1854; and later in pamphlet form. He never again, that we know of, used the image of the 2+2=4 again.
"A word now as to the Judge's desperate assumption that the compromises of '50 had no connection with one another; that Illinois came into the Union as a slave state, and some other similar ones. This is no other than a bold denial of the history of the country. If we do not know that the Compromises of '50 were dependent on each other; if we do not know that Illinois came into the Union as a free state---we do not know any thing. If we do not know these things, we do not know that we ever had a revolutionary war, or such a chief as Washington. To deny these things is to deny our national axioms, or dogmas, at least; and it puts an end to all argument. If a man will stand up and assert, and repeat,
and re-assert, that two and two do not make four, I know nothing in the power of argument that can stop him. I think I can answer the Judge so long as he sticks to the premises; but when he flies from them, I can not work an argument into the consistency of a maternal gag, and actually close his mouth with it. In such a case I can only commend him to the seventy thousand answers just in from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana."
This last bit alludes to Whig (later the Republicans) victories at state level in those 3 states that month.
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If we learned a lesson here today, it's to quit messin' with Lincoln.