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‘We destroyed ourselves’ quote not by Abraham Lincoln – but he said something similar

Multiple Facebook posts and memes shared in Kenya and worldwide often attribute a well-worn quote to Abraham Lincoln, president of the USA from 1861 to 1865. 

They claim Lincoln said: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” 

Lincoln is known for outlawing slavery in the US and leading the north to victory in the country’s Civil War. He was assassinated on 14 April 1865 by John Wilkes Booth. 

But did he utter these foreboding words? We checked.

Historian disputes quote

Christian McWhirter, a historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, told Africa Check: “This quote pops up from time to time. It is not accurate, in that Lincoln never spoke or wrote it, but it is not totally fabricated either.”

McWhirter said the quote “is a corruption of something Lincoln actually said in one of his first major speeches, the ‘Address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois’ on 27 January 1838”.

The speech is available in the collected works of Abraham Lincoln in the University of Michigan Library’s digital collections.

The actual quote reads: “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.”

The quote circulating on Facebook is a paraphrased version of these words. But it does not distort their meaning. Grace Gichuhi  


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