November 26th, 2018
by Brian Walker, Greg Walker and Chance Browne
Abraham Lincoln uttered these famous lines during a debate with Stephen Douglas in Clinton, Illinois, on September 2, 1858. Or did he?
There is no documentary evidence that Lincoln ever said these words. One of the earliest references to the quote was by Fred Wheeler in a speech to a Prohibition party convention on August 26, 1887. A previous instance was from a French speaker in 1885.
These lines were also used frequently by advertisers in the late 19thcentury. In 1888, a Los Angeles clothing store, J.M. Hale & Co, used it in an ad to challenge its competitors to tell the truth about their products.
“You can fool all the people some of the time” is the perfect tag for commercial advertisements, political campaigns, and the like—those times when one wants to suggest that the other guy can’t be trusted, and that you can. Before long, Lincoln was quoted in support of almost everything from automobile tires to mink furs.
These ads were particularly popular around Lincoln’s birthday on February 12.
The Sunday page gag above seems particularly appropriate in the current age of “fake news.”
Next week we will continue our Timeline series with another episode from 2003.
– Brian Walker
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