Wednesday, May 12, 2010

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 seems to sum it up:

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.

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.


  1. "He ate meat with relish"? I would have guessed mustard, but I guess times were tough in the mid-19th century.

    Looking forward to your next post, as always.

  2. Lincoln would have liked that joke, Dr. C. Thanks.

  3. While I do support your stance on human exceptionalism, your quotation of Ingrid Newkirk is either inaccurate or dishonest.

    She never said a "rat is a pig is a dog is a boy" with reference to the moral standing of these organisms. The full quote is "When it comes to having a central nervous system, and the ability to feel pain, hunger, and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. "

    I feel that the honest thing to do is clarify this for people.

    Thank you.

  4. Sorry gade, you missed a different quote of hers. Newkirk used that phrase many times. Here's the key one from Vogue in 1989: Animal liberationists do not separate out the human animal, so there is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They are all mammals Vogue 1989September 1

  5. Ah, okay. I wasn't aware she used it multiple times. I retract my comment.

  6. I note the spelling of "favour" in the quote above. Were American and British spellings of or/our not yet settled? I do not know.