Rolling out the Republican Party’s first official congressional platform in years, House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy appropriately invoked the GOP’s revered father: Abraham Lincoln.
On top of a letter to Republican lawmakers by thanking them for their contributions to the “Commitment To America” — the policy agenda they’re launching Friday near Pittsburgh — McCarthy included a quote attributed to Lincoln.
“Commitment,” the quote reads, “is what turns a promise into reality.”
For McCarthy’s purposes, it’s a perfect message. There’s just one problem: there’s no evidence that Lincoln actually says it.
The quote often appears on social media or inspirational websites, attributed to Lincoln. But a review of historical records by The Daily Beast turned up no evidence of when or where the beloved president said these words.
Christian McWhirter, a historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, said he could find “no reliable evidence” that Lincoln ever said those words. “They don’t appear in his writings and I can’t find them in any of his contemporaries,” McWhirter told The Daily Beast.
McCarthy’s office did not immediately respond to questions about how they got the quote.
What may have injected this phrase into the public’s bloodstream wasn’t Lincoln, but Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street titan who collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis.
In 1986, Lehman Brothers placed a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal thanks to the longest serving employees. At the top of the page is the full quote attributed to Lincoln in some places online.
“Involvement is what turns a promise into reality. They are the words that speak boldly about your intentions. And the actions that speak louder than words. It makes the time that there is none. Over and over, year after year after year.”
“Commitment is the material of which character is made; the power to change things. It is the daily victory of integrity over skepticism.”
While McWhirter felt the 1984 quote was not attributed to Lincoln, the Lehman ad appears to have been a major source of the quote’s dissemination, with witnesses in congressional hearings referring to it—while giving it to Lehman Brothers. and business magazines quoted it . At one point, Honest Abe probably got credit for coming up with it.
“It doesn’t seem to have been attributed until the internet came along and people started to attribute it to Lincoln, which is common with some of these false Lincoln citations,” McWhirter said.
On the internet there is a small epidemic of wise quotes that are wrongly attributed to leaders and American presidents. While there’s no shortage of wise words Lincoln actually said, he’s one of the trend’s most common victims.
The rollout of the “Commitment to America” is a big moment for McCarthy, a distant heir to Lincoln’s leadership of the GOP. The California Republican, who has headed the House minority conference since 2019, is the overwhelming favorite to be Speaker of the House next year if the GOP takes control of the chamber, as expected.
The platform is intended to be an updated priority list and a message to voters about what a Republican majority would do. It partly contains decades old GOP boilerplate on things like economics and energy production. Reflecting the party’s medium-term priorities, it is also heavy on border security and pro-law enforcement rhetoric, nodding heavily on cultural wedge topics such as trans athletes in schools.
On Friday, McCarthy gathered a select group of GOP leaders and regular members in Pittsburgh to roll out the platform, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). The entire House GOP apparatus spent the week preparing for the well-coordinated launch.
Lincoln’s fake quote is, of course, a minor speed bump. McCarthy wouldn’t be the first prominent Republican to disapprove of a Lincoln quote. In 2017, the Republican National Committee tweeted words they attributed to Lincoln: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count; it is life in your years.” (“It didn’t sound very Lincolnesque,” NPR charitably noted in an article at the time.)
And in 2020, Lara Trump, wife of the former president’s son, Eric, made a speech at the GOP convention in which she invoked Lincoln.
“Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘America will never be destroyed from the outside,'” said Lara Trump. “If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we have destroyed ourselves.” Fact-checkers soon found out that it wasn’t a real quote.
Memes have sprouted now, warning eager Lincoln worshipers to think twice. One pairs a black-and-white photo of Abe with the message, “‘Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet just because there’s a photo with a quote next to it’—Abraham Lincoln.”