Abraham Lincoln Quote About Capitalism and Corruption-Authorship Confirmed!
Summary of eRumor:
A quote from Abraham Lincoln in which he warns about corporations being “enthroned” as a result of war and triggering an “era of corruption in high places” to follow has been making the rounds for years.
Abraham Lincoln made this cryptic quote about capitalism in America after the war, and the corruption that would result from it, in a letter sent in 1864.
The quote can be found on page 954 of the second volume of “Abraham Lincoln: A New Portrait,” a Lincoln biography written in 1931 by Emanuel Hertz. The quote appears in a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Col. William F. Elkins dated November 21, 1864:
“We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood… It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”
Lincoln’s long lost quote has gotten a lot of airplay over the years from those who believe that Lincoln’s prophecy about capitalism in America, and an unprecedented concentration of wealth resulting from “corruption in high places” has sadly come true. It’s made the rounds in countless chain emails and in discussion forum posts over the years.
There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not the quote actually came from Lincoln. Author David Korten, for example, attributed the same quote to Harvey Wasserman in his 1995 book “When Corporations Rule the World.” But Rick Crawford, a member of UC Davis’s computer science department, squirreled away in the university’s library until he found the definitive answer. Crawford explained that his research revealed that author Emanuel Hertz wrote that many popular accounts of Lincoln came from William H. Herndon (Lincoln’s lifelong law partner), and that Herndon said these accounts offered a “sanitized” portrayal of Lincoln and made him out to be a “wax figure”:
By all accounts, Herndon was scrupulously honest and plainspoken. Hertz quotes Herndon’s characterization of the various “big-name” authors who relied on his collection for primary source materials:
“They are aiming, first, to do a superb piece of literary work; second, to make the story WITH THE CLASSES AS AGAINST THE MASSES. [my emphasis added] It will result in delineating the real Lincoln about as well as does a wax figure in the museum.”
In several books, I found numerous places where Lincoln spoke about Capital and Labor (“Workingmen”). Lincoln re-used his own material frequently, and virtually identical passages appear in several places. Lincoln praises the moral rightness o fboth Capital and Labor, but this is invariably in the context of a nation where NO MORE THAN ONE MAN IN EIGHT is a Capitalist or a Laborer, ie, where 7/8 of the population are “self-employed” on their own farms and homesteads.
This social context of general self-sufficiency would explain how Lincoln could serve for years as a railroad corporation lawyer with (apparently) no qualms, yet pen the “corporations enthroned” passage to Elkins.
Other critics have made the argument that even if Abraham Lincoln made the remarks, his work as an attorney representing railroad corporations cancels out his harsh criticisms of capitalism, corruption and concentrated wealth. We’re not going to weigh in on that debate, but there’s plenty of published information on it for anyone interested.
So, in conclusion, we can confirm that this quote about capitalism and corruption really did come from Abraham Lincoln.