[Ads-l] Who said: "God must love poor people, he made so many of them?"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 17 19:54:46 UTC 2019

One version of the quotation ascribed to Abraham Lincoln occurred in a
diary entry written by John Hay in 1863. The entry retold a dream that
Lincoln had experienced. The entry referred to a "common-looking man"
and "common looking people". It did not refer to "common people" or
"poor people". The entry was published in 1939 many years after it was
written. However, versions of the saying with an attribution to
Lincoln were in circulation by December 1885 according to my
preliminary search. Also, Hay published a version of the dream
anecdote by 1890.

Please double-check the following material for typos and OCR errors.

[ref] 1972 (1939 Copyright), Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries
and Letters of John Hay, Selected by Tyler Dennett, Chapter 11, Date:
December 24, 1863, Quote Page 143, (Originally published in 1939 by
Dodd, Mead & Company, New York) Negro Universities Press, Westport,
Connecticut. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
The President last night had a dream.

He was in a party of plain people and as it became known who he was
they began to comment on his appearance. One of them said, “He is a
very common-looking man.” The President replied, “Common looking
people are the best in the world: that is the reason the Lord makes so
many of them.”

Waking, he remembered it, and told it as rather a neat thing.
[End excerpt]

The section about this quotation in the scholarly "Recollected Words
of Abraham Lincoln" referred to John Hay's diary entry. The editors
also noted that versions of the quotation were in circulation by 1903.

[ref] 1996, Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, Compiled and edited
by Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher, Section: Alexander
K. McClure (1828-1909), Quote Page 319, Stanford University Press,
Stanford, California. (Verified with hardcopy) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
More than a decade after he published his recollections without
mention of it, McClure recalled having heard Lincoln say:

I have always felt that God must love common people, or he wouldn't
have made so many of them. —McClure-5, 91 (1904). {C}

John Hay's diary (Hay-I, 143), which provides the earliest version of
this remark, had not yet been published in 1903 and thus presumably
constitutes independent corroboration. The New York Tribune of
December 20, 1903, printed McClure's story with modifications that
gave the quotation its classic form:

"Well, God must love the common people, He's made so many of 'em."
[End excerpt]

Hay and a colleague presented a version of the dream anecdote in "The
Century Magazine" in 1890:

[ref] 1890 February, The Century Magazine, Abraham Lincoln: A History
by John G. Nicolay and John Hay  (Private Secretaries to the
President) (Footnote says copyright by J. G. Nicolay and John Hay,
1886), Section: Lincoln's Fame, Start Page 571, Quote Page 573, Column
2, The Century Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
One night he had a dream, which he repeated the next morning to the
writer of these lines, which quaintly illustrates his unpretending and
kindly democracy. He was in some great assembly; the people made a
lane to let him pass. "He is a common-looking fellow," some one said.
Lincoln in his dream turned to his critic and replied, in his Quaker
phrase, "Friend, the Lord prefers common-looking people: that is why
he made so many of them."
[End excerpt]

William Dean Howells used the phrase "common people" when he
attributed an instance of the remark to Lincoln in the January 1886
issue of "Harper's New Monthly Magazine". The issue was available a
few weeks before the cover date:

[ref] 1886 January, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Editor's Study (by
William Dean Howells), Start Page 321, Quote Page 325, Column 1,
Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link


[Begin excerpt]
It has always been supposed by grammarians and purists that a language
can be kept as they find it; but languages, while they live, are
perpetually changing. God apparently meant them for the common
people—whom Lincoln believed God liked because He had made so many of
them; and the common people will use them freely as they use other
gifts of God.
[End excerpt]

As noted above, the January 1886 issue of "Harper's New Monthly
Magazine" was available a few weeks before its cover date. The passage
above was reprinted in a Buffalo, New York newspaper in December 1885:

Date: December 17, 1885
Newspaper: Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
Newspaper Location: Buffalo, New York
Article: Table Talk
Quote Page 2, Column 2
Database: Newspapers.com

The passage in the "Buffalo Commercial Advertiser" was nearly
identical to the passage in "Harper's New Monthly Magazine". Thus, the
redundant text is omitted here.

In January 1886 an Iowa newspaper printed a concise version of the
"common people" saying ascribed to Lincoln. The citation below was
located and clipped by Peter Reitan before I started my search.

Date: January 14, 1886
Newspaper: The Iowa State Register
Newspaper Location: Des Moines, Iowa
Article: Common People
Quote Page 4, Column 3
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
Abraham Lincoln said that God must like common people, he made so many
of them. What a large place In his affections then must our toiling
millions of hardworking wives and mothers occupy.
[End excerpt]

Garson O'Toole

On Sun, Mar 17, 2019 at 11:53 AM Mordechai (Morty) Schiller
<mordechai.schiller at gmail.com> wrote:
> It wasn't Abraham Lincoln. Who was it?
> Thanks,
> Mordechai Schiller
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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