You can't really blame Al Gore for not using footnotes in his new book, "The Assault on Reason." It's a sprawling, untidy blast of indignation, and annotating it with footnotes would be like trying to slip rubber bands around a puddle of quicksilver. Still, I'd love to know where he found the scary quote from Abraham Lincoln that he uses on page 88.
In a chapter entitled "The Politics of Wealth," Gore argues that the ancient threat to democracy posed by rich people run amok has finally been realized under the man who beat him in the 2000 presidential race. Even Lincoln, Gore says, saw the age of Bush coming in 1864: "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."
The quote is a favorite of liberal bloggers, which is probably how Gore came across it. And as a description of how many on the left see the country seven years into their Bush nightmare, it's pretty much perfect.[...]
It's a fake.
Writing in 1999 in the Abraham Lincoln Association's newsletter, the great Lincoln historian Thomas F. Schwartz traced the bogus passage to the 1880s, about 20 years after Lincoln's death. One theory is that it first appeared in a pamphlet advertising patent medicines. Opponents of Gilded Age capitalism -- Gore's forerunners -- found the quote so useful that Lincoln's former White House secretaries felt compelled to launch a campaign "denouncing the forgery," Schwartz said. Robert Todd Lincoln, who was the president's only surviving son and himself a wealthy railroad lawyer, called it "an impudent invention" that ascribed to his father views that the former president would never have held.
"I discovered what I think is the true and only source of this supposed quotation," Robert wrote in an unpublished letter, probably tongue-in-cheek. "It originated, I think, at what is called a Spiritualist Séance in a country town in Iowa, a number of years ago, as being a communication by President Lincoln through what is called a Medium." Even bloggers might think twice about trusting such a source.
For more on the fake Lincoln quote, see snopes.com.