Abraham Lincoln? Emperor Sigismund? Martin Luther King? Loretta Young? Mark Twain? Cardinal Richelieu? Robert Jones Burdette? John Wooden? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The leader of a victorious group decided to treat the vanquished people with compassion. Critics of the leader were unhappy because they believed that the enemies deserved destruction. Here are three versions of the response:
- The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.
- I will slay my enemies by making them my friends.
- The only safe and sure way to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend.
This saying has been attributed to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match for this anecdote located by QI appeared in a Bellows Falls, Vermont newspaper in April 1818. The word “reproaching” should have been “reproached” in the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
The Emperor Sigismund was reproaching for rewarding instead destroying his enemies, as by that means he gave them an opportunity to injure him. “What!” said the noble minded monarch, “do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends.”
Sigismund died in 1437, and the long delay before this tale appeared reduces its credibility. A similar anecdote was told by the 1940s about Abraham Lincoln who died in 1865. The delay suggests that this story was also apocryphal.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1818 April 6, Vermont Intelligencer, Anecdotes, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Bellows Falls, Vermont. (Newspapers_com) ↩