Monday, January 23, 2012

Viral email: Thomas Jefferson quotations

 Another of these viral emails was forwarded to me today supposed chock full of juicy Thomas Jefferson quotations that show he was a pistol-packing, government hating, social security despising Tea-bagger. My beloved Uncle Bud and Aunt Marjie were the instigators and I'm CERTAIN that they fully expected me to debunk the whole thing. I did. And decided to post it here for posterity. The email begins with a Jefferson timeline and then a collection of quotes. From the collection:

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"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."

-- Thomas Jefferson

This quotation first appeared in Dreams Come Due: Government and Economics as if Freedom Mattered (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986), p. 312, written under the pseudonym of John Galt. It is there attributed to Jefferson, but is not found anywhere in his works.

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"It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world."

-- Thomas Jefferson

I cannot locate this quotation anywhere in Jefferson's works nor can I locate a single quotation where he uses the word "incumbent." Doubtful to say the least.

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"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them." -- Thomas Jefferson

Baloney. This is misquote: "If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy." Letter to Thomas Cooper (29 November 1802)

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"My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government." -- Thomas Jefferson

More baloney.
Motto of United States Magazine and Democratic Review. First used in introductory essay by editor John L. O'Sullivan in the premier issue (October, 1837, p. 6). Attributed to Jefferson by Henry David Thoreau, this statement is cited in his essay on civil disobedience, but the quote has not been found in Jefferson's own writings. It is also commonly attributed to Thomas Paine, perhaps because of its similarity in theme to many of his well-documented expressions such as "Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one."
    Variant: That government is best which governs least.

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"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms." -- Thomas Jefferson

Seriously inaccurate. The actual quotation with citation is:
"No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands]."
DRAFT Constitution for Virginia (June 1776) This quote almost always appears with the parenthetical omitted and with the SPURIOUS extension, "The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government".

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"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." -- Thomas Jefferson

Spurious. See notation to previous quote.

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"To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical." -- Thomas Jefferson

Just the kind of sloppy misquote that one expects from this kind of smarmy pseudo-patriotic claptrap. The actual quotation with its context here:

"Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet choose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to exalt it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislature and ruler, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical." A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, Chapter 82 (1779). Published in The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes, Federal Edition, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904, Vol. 1, pp. 438–441

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Thomas Jefferson (supposedly) said in 1802:

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.

If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property - until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."

With respect to the first half of this mangled mess:

The earliest known appearance of this quote is from 1895 (Joshua Douglass, "Bimetallism and Currency", American Magazine of Civics, 7:256). It is apparently a combination of paraphrases or approximate quotations from three separate letters of Jefferson (longer excerpts in sourced section):
    I sincerely believe, with you, that banking institutions are more dangerous than standing armies...
        Letter to John Taylor, 1816
    The bank mania...is raising up a moneyed aristocracy in our country which has already set the government at defiance...
        Letter to Josephus B. Stuart, 1817
    Bank paper must be suppressed, and the circulating medium must be restored to the nation to whom it belongs.
        Letter to John W. Eppes, 1813

With respect to the second half which reads:

If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and the corporations which grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.

Respectfully Quoted says this is "obviously spurious", noting that the OED's earliest citation for the word "deflation" is from 1920. The earliest known appearance of this quote is from 1935 (Testimony of Charles C. Mayer, Hearings Before the Committee on Banking and Currency, House of Representatives, Seventy-fourth Congress, First Session, on H.R. 5357, p. 799). It appears nowhere in Jefferson's works.

[Credit to Wikiquotes.org for the greatest portion of this information]

4 comments:

  1. we just found your website and would like to know the answer to a question. Was Paine a pirate when he was a teenager? How old was he? Thank you

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  2. Thank you for your question. I'm away from my office traveling, so I can't give you precise dates and age of Paine at the time of this event, but yes he did serve on a privateer. Here's a good link to some reliable information on the subject. Ayers was a fine historian and his book is worth the read as a starting-point for learning about Paine's life:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=9pha6K8kP7IC&pg=PA2&lpg=PA2&dq=%22thomas+Paine%22+privateer+captain+death&source=bl&ots=2kWPeXxqXv&sig=e9GSCHaQy3rRCWvF4w8uCeAqKfk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=RIEsT9ePJojUiAKf77XECg&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

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  3. ps. you'll have to cut and paste that link and make certain there are no spaces before you push the return button. Let me know if you find it ok. Ken

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  4. found it. THANKS!

    ReplyDelete