Fragment on the Constitution and the Union by Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

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This never appeared in Lincoln’s public speeches, but it is possible that he composed it while writing his First Inaugural Address. It draws upon the King James translation of Proverbs 25:11–”A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver”–to describe the relationship between the principles of the Declaration and the purpose of the Constitution.

January 1861

All this is not the result of accident. It has a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these, are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of “Liberty to all”–the principle that clears the path for all–gives hope to all–and, by consequence, enterprise,and industry to all.

The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government, and consequent prosperity. No oppressed, people will fight, and endure, as our fathers did, without the promise of something better, than a mere change of masters.

The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word, “fitly spoken”which has proved an “apple of gold” to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple–not the apple for the picture.

So let us act, that neither picture, or apple shall ever be blurred, or bruised or broken.

That we may so act, we must study, and understand the points of danger

  1. Abraham Lincoln, “Fragment on the Constitution and the Union,” January 1861, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. 4 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 168-69. Reprinted with the permission of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Springfield, IL.

Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

1 reply
  1. Linda Moak
    Linda Moak says:

    What struck me initially when reading Lincoln’s words was his association of “liberty” and “industry” to all. With the tax and spending issues looming everpresent and our government’s increasing encroachment on our liberties, I wonder what President Lincoln might have opined about the New Deal of FDR and the Great Society of LBJ? The Constitution of which Lincoln so eloquently wrote continues to be under attack via an overreaching executive branch and vilification of the supreme law of our land by a complicit media that believe the Constitution to be outdated. Thank you, James Madison, for checks and balances! Neither the Bible, of which Lincoln wrote, or the Constitution are inherently flawed, they are clear documents divinely inspired and heavily referenced.


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