According to this page and 2800+ others, Abraham Lincoln said:

“I would rather be a little nobody, then to be a evil somebody.” (sic)

I could not find a source. Did Abraham Lincoln say it, or is it just someone that attributed it to him?

  • 8
    It seems unlikely that Lincoln would have been so ungrammatical. There is a tendency for people to take phrases they like the sound of and falsely attribute them to people they, and others, revere. Unfortunately, most collections of quotations omit any reference to original sources and apparently recycle the contents of other collections without checking their authenticity. Commented May 8, 2013 at 10:24
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    Tracking down quotes are REALLY difficult. I am currently working on tracking down another quote than this one. I have no idea how to find out if Lincoln said that or not. Proving it false is harder than to prove it right.
    – Wertilq
    Commented May 8, 2013 at 14:02
  • @RedGrittyBrick: the precise wording is clearly wrong, but with the obvious errors fixed — as e.g. “I would rather be a little nobody, than an evil somebody” — it becomes something that Lincoln certainly could have said, at least on purely linguistic grounds. The use of nobody and somebody as nouns in this sense is attested back to the 16th century (according to the OED), and was well-established by Lincoln’s time.
    – PLL
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 15:13
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    Henry Clay, a politician whom Lincoln admired as his "ideal of a great man" was widely attributed in Lincoln's day with the saying: "I would rather be right than be president." The similarity is interesting, but not close enough to draw any conclusions. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 18:54
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    Lincoln did say this: "But, Fellow-Citizens, I shall conclude.--Considering the great degree of modesty which should always attend youth, it is probable I have already been more presuming than becomes me. However, upon the subjects of which I have treated, I have spoken as I thought. I may be wrong in regard to any or all of them; but holding it a sound maxim, that it is better to be only sometimes right, than at all times wrong, so soon as I discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to renounce them. Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 19:12

1 Answer 1


Given its simplicity and popularity (currently over 9000 results on Google, including the correct "than" version), there should be a reputable source for the quote. I am still unable to locate one, so the answer is most likely: No, Abraham Lincoln did not say that.

Quotes are so often falsely attributed to Abraham Lincoln, famous for his honesty, that he's become the icon of a popular meme:

Fake quote meme featuring Abraham Lincoln

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