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..that they never made.

We have all heard and seen the inspiring quotes from our Founding Fathers used by politicians and found as sigs at the bottom of comments.  What better way to support your point of view than to buttress it with the gravitas of our Founding Fathers words, a wisdom beyond question. Who are you to question Jefferson, Franklin, Washington or Adams?

But how many of these quotes are real?

When I start to look into the sources of all these quotes, I was surprised just how many of them are – well -  bogus. I mean, sure they were said by somebody, just not Jefferson. Who would take you seriously when you quote "A government big enough to supply you with everything you need, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have." if they knew it was not Jefferson but Gerald Ford who said that?

Most of my merger research came from Wikiquotes and Monticello.org's Spurious Quotations

Below the fold are just a few of the most common and egregious examples of misquotes with a short cite of where they actually came from.

Edited to correct formatting error. I replace slash-n with slash-p

Jefferson is by far and away the Founding Father used most to legitimatize quotes. Many of these have also been attributed to Franklin, Washington and even Churchill, but Jefferson is the most popular.

"My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government."
John Sharp Williams in a lecture delivered at Columbia University, New York 1912

"Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%."
Unknown, first appears in 2004.

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."
From Dreams Come Due: Government and Economics as if Freedom Mattered (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986), p. 312, written under the pseudonym of John Galt.

"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism"
This first appears in print in 1960's. It became popular during the Vietnam war protests and was used in a speech by New York City Mayor John Lindsay in 1969.

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
Most often traced back to the Irish liberal Protestant John Philpot Curran circa 1790, but the sentiment could be even older. John Philpot Curran said, "The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

"A government big enough to supply you with everything you need, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have."
Gerald Ford August 12, 1974

National Prayer for Peace
1928 United States Book of Common Prayer.

"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."
First appears in this form in 1993. It may have evolved from a proposed addition Jefferson made to the Virginia Constitution, "No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands or tenements]." It should be noted that that sentence never made it into Virginia's Constitution.

“The best government is that which governs least.”
Henry David Thoreau claims Jefferson said this, but it does not appear in any existing writings. Thoreau may have borrowed it from United States Magazine and Democratic Review who started using it as their motto in 1837.

"The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first."
Unknown, but does not appear in Jefferson's writings

"Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not."
Unknown and in fact it does not appear in print anywhere. It appears to be an invention of the Internet age. Another quote that falls into that category is "Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry."

“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."
Appears to come from the Irish politician John Basil Barnhill in 1914. It was rearranged in the 1990's from the original "Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty"

"Without God, liberty will not last."
1996 article by Thomas G. West of the Heritage Foundation fame.

“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”
This appears to be from 1688 by Massachusetts Governor Simon Bradstreet, but seems to be a general slogan used by the followers of Oliver Cromwell.


Benjamin Franklin

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”
The first sentence originates with Gary Strand, Usenet group sci.environment, 23 April 1990. It is unknown where or when the second sentence was added.

“There is a great danger for the United States of America. This great danger is the Jew.”
First appears in the 1930 and uses the idiom 'great danger' which was not in use during Franklin's time. Hmm what was happening in the 1930's?

“Each man has two countries, I think: His own, and France.”
Henri de Bornier, La Fille de Roland, act III, scene ii, p. 65 (1875) "Tout homme a deux pays, le sien et puis la France!"

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
This is not attributed to Franklin until 1840. Earlier it was attributed to Richard Penn in 1811. Anyway this is a pretty obvious pun that in a similar form can be dated back to Dryden's 1717 The Spanish Fryar.

"Never leave till tomorrow that which you can do today."
It sounds like something Franklin might have said, but he didn't. I am not sure where this one originated.


George Washington

“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
Upton Sinclair 1915

“The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments.”
Unknown

“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence. The church, the plow, the prairie wagon, and citizen's firearms are indelibly related.

“From the moment the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to ensure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable.
Every corner of this land knows firearms, and more than 99 99/100 percent of them by their silence indicate they are in safe and sane hands.

“The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference; they deserve a place of honor with all that's good.

“When firearms, go all goes; we need them every hour.”
Unknown, but there were no 'prairie wagons' at the time and it does not exist in any of Washington's writings.


James Madison

“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
David Barton 1989

“Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”
The earliest known appearance is a 1994 pamphlet from the Militia of Montana.

Oppressors can tyrannize only when they achieve a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace.”
Unsourced, who knows who first said this, but it dies not appear to have been Madison.


Patrick Henry

“There is an insidious campaign of false propaganda being waged today, to the effect that our country is not a Christian country but a religious one—that it was not founded on Christianity but on freedom of religion. It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by "religionists", but by Christians—not on religion, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”
1956 issue of The Virginian in a piece partially about, not by, Patrick Henry


John Adams

"We Recognize No Sovereign but God, and no King but Jesus!"
Like the earlier "Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God," quote, this one also appears to be an Oliver Cromwell era slogan. In fact John Adams wasn't even at the location it is purported to have been uttered.

Originally posted to se portland on Sat Jan 22, 2011 at 12:52 PM PST.

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