‘Whatever You Are, Be a Good One’: Who Said It?

Blurred scene of lake with the words "Whatever you are, be a good one" and the name Abraham Lincoln crossed out in red and a yellow sticky note with red writing.

When you scroll through Facebook or check out the latest on Instagram, chances are you’ll see a few inspirational quotes filling your feed. A quote that seems to make the rounds a lot is “Whatever you are, be a good one,” and Abraham Lincoln is most often given credit for this bit of wisdom. 

But… Abe didn’t say that. Though we’re sure the humble and hard-working Lincoln would’ve certainly agreed with the sentiment. It’s a wonderful reminder that status and job titles aren’t the end-all-be-all; the true measure of success is being a good person. 

And by all accounts, Abraham Lincoln was a good person. So, he’d probably be concerned to know he was being given credit for another man’s words—and would want to rectify that! 

The true speaker of the quote is most likely William Makepeace Thackeray, a British novelist, author, and illustrator. Thackeray’s full quote, “Whatever you are, try to be a good one,” appeared in a memoir by the American essayist Laurence Hutton. Hutton described a meeting between the two, during which the famous line was uttered. 

Say What? 

“Whatever you are, be a good one” is far from the only quote that’s been misattributed to Abraham Lincoln. Test yourself to see if you can identify the genuine articles! 

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