The Republican Party’s official Twitter account posted, then deleted, a tweet honoring Abraham Lincoln’s birthday by mistakenly attributing an inspirational quote to the revered 16th President.
The post on 12 February 2017 originally featured a picture of the Lincoln Memorial alongside the statement, “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” A screen capture of the post can be seen below:
However, there is no evidence that Lincoln ever made this statement, or that it was even known during his lifetime. The earliest match for this quote found so far originated with a 1947 advertisement published in the Chicago Daily Tribune promoting The Second Forty Years, a self-help book by Edward Stieglitz.
We contacted the newspaper’s advertising department and found the ad (which reads in part “The important thing to you is not how many years in your life, but how much life in your years!”) in the paper’s 16 March 1947 edition, as seen below:
The phrase has also been commonly associated with former Democratic Party presidential candidate and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson II, who used it in both a 1952 speech to students at the Boston Globe High School Press Forum and a speech two years later to the senior class banquet at Princeton University. According to a transcript of the latter speech, Stevenson told the Princeton seniors:
All change is the result of a change in the contemporary state of mind. Don’t be afraid of being out of tune with your environment, and above all pray God that you are not afraid to live, to live hard and fast. To my way of thinking it is not the years in your life but the life in your years that count in the long run. You’ll have more fun, you’ll do more and you’ll get more, you’ll give more satisfaction the more you know, the more you have worked, and the more you have lived. For yours is a great adventure at a stirring time in the annals of men.
After the GOP’s mistaken use of the quotation, critics began circulating the satirical hashtag #LincolnQuotes on Twitter. Although the original tweet was deleted, the Department of Education has not yet taken down a tweet that accurately quotes civil rights activist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois while misspelling his name. That tweet can be seen below:
Twitter users also noted that the Department’s first attempt to apologize for the error itself contained an error, as seen here:
The Department later posted a revised version of the tweet with Du Bois’ name spelled correctly.