Human Exceptionalism

Honest Abe Wasn’t For Animal Rights: Honest

Animal rights activists often like to tout a purported quote from our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln.  Here’s the alleged quote:

I am in favour of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of the whole human being.

I read at least one Lincoln biography a year, and I have never come across that line–and believe me, it would have caught my attention!  So, I did a little on-line research. And guess what? It’s fake.  I checked many sites for this, but this one involves a lot of research and checking, and seems to sum it up reliably:

An examination of such website claims led to a single quotation, the earliest source of which I’ve found is a book by Jon Wynne-Tyson, British publisher and author of books on vegetarianism and animal rights. He claims that Lincoln said or wrote (unclear which): “I am in favour of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.”1 Wynne-Tyson cites as the source for the quote, “Complete Works,” which presumably refers to the Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln.2 But he provides neither volume nor page number for verification…

I became intrigued at how such an unorthodox attitude (certainly for the 19th century) could have been held by Abraham Lincoln, and yet had come to light only within the past twenty-some years. My interest led me to Wynne-Tyson’s alleged source of Lincoln’s quotation, Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, first published in 1894, and reprinted with additional material in 1905. It was the latter edition that I found at the library of Binghamton University. As this work has not yet been digitized in a form that permits the text to be searched by computer, I was compelled, over two months, to read its entire 12 volumes—4,637 pages in all. Nowhere in those pages could I find any statement by Lincoln either for or against the concept of animal rights. In fact, the very phrase “animal rights” does not appear in the work. Yet whenever this alleged Lincoln quote has appeared on dozens of websites I’ve inspected, the citation (if given at all) is Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln. I conclude, therefore, that this alleged Lincoln quotation is, in all likelihood, a fabrication.

I checked several other sites, and all reached the same conclusion.

Lincoln certainly had a soft heart for animals. He didn’t hunt big game and may not have hunted at all. He owned a dog named Fido in Springfield (pictured, above), and a lapdog named Jip in the White House, as well as assorted cats. He saved a chick that had fallen out of its nest and once while riding with a friend, he doubled back to save a pig stuck in the mud, even though it meant he would be covered too.  He gave what was probably the first presidential pardon to a turkey being fattened for Christmas dinner.  But that wasn’t because he was worried about the life of the bird: His son Tad had named the turkey and made it his pet, and so Lincoln didn’t want to hurt his son.

But animal rights?  No.  He wore leather shoes and boots. He rode horses. He ate meat with relish.  Besides, the core belief of “animal rights”–that humans and animals have equivalent moral worth–did not exist in the 19th Century in America, and indeed, would have been astounding and beyond the pale to Honest Abe–particularly given the difficulties of the time concerning the intrinsic equality of all humans.  Heck, they are astounding and beyond the pale to me in 2010.

Most Popular

The Imaginary Trump

Like Andrew Jackson, Donald Trump is man who represents the age in which he lived. Whatever you may think of the age. Jackson embodied a generation of men who had risen and made their mark in a young country. He represented their desire for greater representation, even if it had costs for slaves and Indians. He ... Read More

The Imaginary Trump

Like Andrew Jackson, Donald Trump is man who represents the age in which he lived. Whatever you may think of the age. Jackson embodied a generation of men who had risen and made their mark in a young country. He represented their desire for greater representation, even if it had costs for slaves and Indians. He ... Read More
Film & TV

Bowing Down to Obama

‘How can we miss you when you won’t go away?” political podcaster Yvette Carnell joked two years ago when Barack Obama began his comeback tour by making sideline pronouncements about the state of the nation after his brief retirement. Now the comeback is official, with two new Kool-Aid-drinker Obama ... Read More
Film & TV

Bowing Down to Obama

‘How can we miss you when you won’t go away?” political podcaster Yvette Carnell joked two years ago when Barack Obama began his comeback tour by making sideline pronouncements about the state of the nation after his brief retirement. Now the comeback is official, with two new Kool-Aid-drinker Obama ... Read More
Economy & Business

Shopping Superstitions

It’s the boss-bossiest time of the year, when Americans getting ready to open up their wallets to buy Christmas presents are lectured by illiterate halfwits about where and how to spend their money. The usual demands: Buy local, or buy from small businesses. This is pure nonsense, and you should feel free to ... Read More
Economy & Business

Shopping Superstitions

It’s the boss-bossiest time of the year, when Americans getting ready to open up their wallets to buy Christmas presents are lectured by illiterate halfwits about where and how to spend their money. The usual demands: Buy local, or buy from small businesses. This is pure nonsense, and you should feel free to ... Read More
History

The 1620 Project

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower arrived on the eastern coast of North America. She had weathered the slings and arrows of maritime misfortune for almost ten weeks at that point, but the passengers thought the discomfort of crossing a small price to pay for passage to the Promised Land. After all, these were ... Read More
History

The 1620 Project

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower arrived on the eastern coast of North America. She had weathered the slings and arrows of maritime misfortune for almost ten weeks at that point, but the passengers thought the discomfort of crossing a small price to pay for passage to the Promised Land. After all, these were ... Read More