The current gun control debate has resurrected a quote allegedly from George Washington that goes like this: "A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.” The quote is floating around on Facebook and on various anti-gun control blogs like "Ammunition Depot" and "Famous Second Amendment Quotes." Sometimes the quote has a source, usually the Boston Independent Chronicle, January 14, 1790 but usually is just attributed nakedly to George Washington. The quote, of course, is bogus. It is a blatant distortion of what Washington actually said. Its evolution is an interesting case study on how quotes are distorted and distributed for political purpose.
The actual quote comes from Washington's address to Congress on January 8th, 1790 and goes like this: "A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a Uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent others, for essential, particularly for military supplies." Note that the quote has nothing to do with gun rights and is clearly concerns properly equipping the military. http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/...
Somewhere, sometime, someone deliberately modified and distorted the original quote to serve a political purpose. The earliest version I could find of the mutant version was in speech to the House by Rep. Paul Broun on June 26,2008 but I'm sure it has been floating around longer than that. The distortion of the original quote was not some accident or slip that then went viral, it was premeditated. Whoever did this, took a legitimate opening clause and then substituted their thinking for the rest of the sentence and attributed it to Washington. The perverse genius in this was attributing it to the Independent Chronicle. Not many people have access to early American newspapers however I do. The original, correct quote is given in the Independent Chronicle.
We all should know to distrust quotes without sources but confirmation bias blinds all of us. I first saw the quote when one of my law students posted it on his Facebook page. To be honest, I was more distressed with his failure to check for an original source than his unfortunate political views. He liked the quote, it echoed his own sentiments, he didn't see a need to check it. Those of us on the other side of the debate must be equally vigilant for fake quotes used by the right and fake quotes that suck us in.