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[T]he promise being made, must be kept. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Promises are commitments by someone to do or not do something. In the law of contract, an exchange of promises is usually held to be legally enforceable, according to the Latin maxim pacta sunt servanda.


  • Promises must be kept and contracts strictly observed to the extent that the commitments made in them are morally just. A significant part of economic and social life depends on the honoring of contracts between physical or moral persons - commercial contracts of purchase or sale, rental or labor contracts. All contracts must be agreed to and executed in good faith. Contracts are subject to commutative justice which regulates exchanges between persons and between institutions in accordance with a strict respect for their rights. Commutative justice obliges strictly; it requires safeguarding property rights, paying debts, and fulfilling obligations freely contracted. Without commutative justice, no other form of justice is possible.
    • "Catechism of the Catholic Church - The seventh commandment". Retrieved 2015-02-25.
  • All men have a feeling, that they would rather you told them a civil lie than give them a point blank refusal…. If you make a promise, the thing is still uncertain, depends on a future day, and concerns but few people; but if you refuse you alienate people to a certainty and at once, and many people too.
    • Quintus Tullius Cicero, "On Standing for the Consulship", section 12.—The Treatises of M. T. Cicero, trans. C. D. Yonge, p. 499, 500 (1872). This work, also known as the "Handbook of Electioneering", was addressed to Marcus Tullius Cicero, the author's brother. Another translation of the passage is: "Human nature being what it is, all men prefer a false promise to a flat refusal. At the worst the man to whom you have lied may be angry. That risk, if you make a promise, is uncertain and deferred, and it affects only a few. But if you refuse you are sure to offend many, and that at once". H. J. Haskell, The New Deal in Old Rome, p. 169 (1939).
  • A man who had two sons ... went to the first and said, "Son, go out and work in my vineyard today." But he answered and said, "I will not," but afterward he repented of it and he went. And the father went to the second and said the same. But he answered, "I will, sir," and he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?
  • [P]eople, act upon motives. Why should they do any thing for us, if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive---even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.
  • We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot.
    • Attributed to Abraham Lincoln, speech delivered before the first Republican state convention of Illinois, Bloomington, Illinois, May 29, 1856.—The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Arthur B. Lapsley, vol. 2, p. 249 (1905). This version of the speech has been questioned because it was reconstructed by Henry C. Whitney, who made notes at the time but did not write it out until 1896. He did not claim that it was literally correct, only that he had followed the argument and that in many cases the sentences were as Lincoln spoke them. The only contemporary account of the so-called "Lost Speech" was a brief report in the Alton, Illinois, Weekly Courier, June 5, 1856, which does not contain this sentence. Some historians believe the Whitney reconstruction "is not … worthy of serious consideration"; in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), vol. 2, p. 341.
  • Giants in
    Their promises, but those obtained, weak pigmies
    In their performance.
  • The Great Spirit placed me and my people on this land poor and naked. When the white men came we gave them lands, and did not wish to hurt them. But the white man drove us back and took our lands. Then the Great Father [president] made us many promises, but they are not kept. He promised to give us large presents, and when they came to us they were small; they seemed to be lost on the way.
    • Sioux Indian Chief Red Cloud, speech at the Council of Peace, New York City, June 15, 1870, as reported by The New York Times (June 16, 1870), p. 2.
  • And be these juggling fiends no more believ'd,
    That palter with us in a double sense:
    That keep the word of promise to our ear,
    And break it to our hope.
  • Promises and Pye-Crusts,… are made to be broken.
    • Jonathan Swift, "Polite Conversation", The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Herbert Davis (1957), vol. 4, p. 146.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 636.
  • Promise is most given when the least is said.
  • Promettre c'est donner, espérer c'est jouir.
  • You never bade me hope, 'tis true;
    I asked you not to swear:
    But I looked in those eyes of blue,
    And read a promise there.
  • There buds the promise of celestial worth.

See also

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