I stumbled across the following quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln and wanted to post it as a Quote of the Day:

To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men.

I wanted to list it because it seemed to represent a call to action, and a recognition, akin to the one I heard in Scott Schaffer’s quote (one of my favorite quotes about the importance of acting on sociological knowledge) from his book Resisting Ethics (pp. 271-272) that inaction is a form of action:

Our hands are already dirty; the question I leave here is whether our hands will be dirtied through action intended to bring concrete, actual, enacted freedom into the world, or through our choice to preserve ourselves at the cost of all others in the here and now and in the future.

But, when I went to find the original source I had a hard time tracking it down. Turns out it’s not actually a quote from Lincoln. According to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, it was “cited by Douglas MacArthur in 1950 speech after his release as commander of the United Nations forces in Korea. It is actually from a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.”

So, I went looking for a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and the rest of the poem makes the search well worth it. Here is the full poem, title “Protest” and originally published in 1914 (as found on Bartleby.com):

To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.

Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man
Call this the land of freedom.

The first line from this poem was apparently also used as “opening frame of the 1991 Oliver Stone film, JFK” (source).

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