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The Proverbial Abraham Lincoln

An Index to Proverbs in the Works of Abraham Lincoln

Wolfgang Mieder

Abraham Lincoln’s political and moral stature as a major public figure of the nineteenth century is indisputable and well attested to in his published works. His use of proverbial language added rhetorical prowess to his speeches, letters, proclamations, and memoranda. Both his oral and written communications are replete with metaphorical and colloquial language in the form of proverbs, proverbial expressions, proverbial comparisons, wellerisms, twin formulas, and triads. His effective employment of Biblical and folk proverbs, as well as proverbial phrases, makes him a masterful orator and writer. Of special interest in this regard is his rhetorical manipulation of such proverbs as: «A house divided against itself cannot stand», «Broken eggs cannot be mended», «Right makes might», and «Don’t swap horses in the middle of the stream». Their traditional wisdom quickly becomes a powerful verbal weapon in his political, social, and humane struggle to rid the United States of slavery while keeping the Union together. This book contains an interpretive analysis of Lincoln’s multifaceted use of proverbial language. The bulk of the volume is a key-word index to the contextualized occurrence of all proverbs and proverbial phrases in Lincoln’s complete writings.