The House Republican conference thought their agenda was quoting Abraham Lincoln. It was actually quoting a Lehman Brothers ad from the 1980s
“Commitment,” reads the quote, “is what transforms a promise into reality.”
For McCarthy’s purposes, it’s a pitch-perfect message. There’s just one problem: there’s no record of Lincoln actually saying it.
Christian McWhirter, a historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, said he could find “no reliable evidence” that Lincoln ever said those words. “They do not appear in his writings and I cannot find them recollected by any of his contemporaries,” McWhirter told The Daily Beast.
In 1986, Lehman Brothers placed a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal thanking its longest-tenured employees. At the top of the page is the full quote that is attributed in some places online to Lincoln.
“Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year.”
“Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.”
Although McWhirter found the quote himself in 1984 not attributed to Lincoln, the Lehman ad seems to have been a main source for the proliferation of the quote, with witnesses in congressional hearings referencing it—while sourcing it to Lehman Brothers—and business journals quoting it. At some point, Honest Abe was likely given credit for thinking it up.