Quote goof of the moment: Tom Paine didn’t say that; Edward Abbey did.

May 7, 2014

Oy.  You’d hope that the Rabid Right would learn after a few dozen of these errors that they should try to verify stuff before they claim events of history, or sayings of famous people are gospel — especially stuff involving our patriotic founders.

But, no.

Sometimes their failure to check sources can produce amusement, though, like this one which they misattribute to Tom Paine in propaganda supporting rent scofflaw Cliven Bundy and other land management issues:

Tom Paine didn't say that. Ed Abbey said it.

Tom Paine didn’t say that. Ed Abbey said it.

“The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government.”

Someone mildly familiar with Tom Paine and his life and other writings might suspect the supposed attribution from the start.  Paine was a great advocate of governments to protect the rights of citizens, especially citizens like him, who were often on the outs with popular opinion and avoided the Guillotine in France and mob violence in the U.S. only through interventions of government officials who told mobs the law did not cotton their wishes to see violence on Mr. Paine.

Wikiquote notes Paine didn’t say it.  A simple check would have found that.

But other sites claim it was written by Edward Abbey, the author of Desert Solitaire and The Monkeywrench Gang.

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

— Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis en Deserto) : Notes from a Secret Journal (1990) ISBN 0312064888

Why is that delicious?

The quote — the image above, for example — is being used by pro-militia groups who have defended Cliven Bundy’s trespassing on public lands in Nevada, and by Texans who, upset that they don’t have such a good target as massive Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holdings in Texas, have ginned up a faux controversy, claiming falsely that BLM is seeking to seize lands in Texas.

Edward Abbey?  He didn’t much like BLM, and he was particularly ticked off at the Bureau of Reclamation and the imposition of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River with the drowning of Glen Canyon.  Abbey’s disdain of federal land managers and grand dam schemes may have been exceeded only by his contempt for developers, miners and ranchers who took advantage of the desert for profit.

Would Abbey have supported Bundy’s overgrazing on public lands, or Texas Republicans scrambling to make a false issue to mismanage lands?  Oy.  Oy.  And oy.

See this brilliant poster at Americans Who Tell The Truth:

From Americans who Tell the Truth, Edward Abbey.

From Americans who Tell the Truth, Edward Abbey. Writer, ‘Desert Anarchist’ : 1927 – 1989 “The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chainsaws. It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it. Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.”

Wall of Fame (people and sites who got the cite right):

Wall of Shame (people and sites who got the cite wrong):


If it’s an election year, it must be Bogus Quote Time! Patrick Henry on the Constitution

August 14, 2012

Keep your collections of Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, and “the founders” close to you, and right next to your Bartlett’s or Yale.  It’s an election year, and that means people are pulling out all the stops to get you to act against your interests and common sense, including making up stuff that they claim famous people said.

This quote falsely attributed to Patrick Henry piqued my interest last night:

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”  ~ Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry before the House of Burgesses, painting by Peter F. Rothermel

As the painter imagined it, Patrick Henry before the House of Burgesses, by Peter F. Rothermel. The painting was done in 1851, 52 years after Henry’s death. It commemorates his famous speech against the Stamp Act of 1775, “If this be treason, make the most of it.”  Henry was both fiery in oration and stubborn in policy; it is unlikely that he would have abandoned his staunch opposition to the U.S. Constitution, to praise its defenses of individual rights, the very thing he criticized it for failing to do.

How do we know Patrick Henry did not say it?

Recall, you students of history, that Patrick Henry bitterly opposed the Constitution and its ratification.  He considered it too much government, too much intrusions of a centralized, federal government over the states and the citizens of Virginia in particular.

Henry refused to serve when elected delegate to the convention in Philadelphia in 1787.  Henry made it clear that he opposed any new charter of government that set up a real, workable, national government. Henry held considerable sway in Virginia — he was serving one of his six terms as governor, and he had the legislature wrapped around his finger, doing his bidding.  Because of that, James Madison devised a plan for ratification that excluded governors and state legislatures, but instead asked for ratification by the people of each state, in specially-called conventions.

Henry tried to stack the Virginia convention against ratification.  He did his best scuttle Madison’s attending.  Henry thundered against the Constitution from the floor of the convention, claiming that it would forever trample the rights of citizens.  Partly as a result, and partly to get the document approved, Madison pledged that he would create a bill of rights to clarify protections of citizens.  Madison thought that rights were already protected, but he conceded for political reasons.

Madison won in the convention, and Virginia voted to ratify the Constitution.  Henry was livid.

To prevent Madison from creating a bill of rights, Henry fixed the election of the new senators in the state legislature, excluding Madison.  If Madison were to carry out his promise, he’d have to get elected to the House of Representatives — but as a popular man in his home county, that should not have been a problem.  Henry persuaded the only man in the county more popular than Madison, James Monroe, to run against Madison.  It’s a great story, but for another time — Madison eked out the win.

Henry opposed ratification of any of the twelve amendments Madison proposed, which Congress approved.  Eventually ten of the amendments won ratification; we call those ten our Bill of Rights.

President-elect George Washington asked Henry to serve in the new government, perhaps in the president’s cabinet as Secretary of State.  Henry refused.  Supreme Court?  Henry refused.

Get the picture yet?  Patrick Henry was not a fan of the U.S. Constitution.  He complained that it fettered citizens of the states, and that it fettered the states.

How likely is it that he would then turn around and praise the document as a tool for restraining the state against the citizen?  Henry was a stubborn man.  It is not likely.

On history alone, then, we should regard that quote attributed to Henry as bogus.  It’s a fake, a sham, a blot on Henry’s legacy and a warping of history.  Heck, it covers up great stories about Henry fighting the Constitution — it’s not much fun, either.

The words offered most likely never crossed Patrick Henry’s mind, let alone his lips.  Of course, this quote shows up at many so-called patriotic sites — none with good attribution.  I was interested to find this very statement at Wikiquotes, listed under quotes misattributed to Henry:

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.

More and Related Material:


Nope: Lincoln didn’t say that

June 24, 2011

Delightful little feature at Arizona Central (azcentral.com), “AZ Fact Check ’11, Keeping Arizona honest” — Arizona Central is a feature of the Arizona Republic, as I recall (somebody correct me if I err).

I’ve noted before that Abraham Lincoln gets credit for a lot of things he didn’t say.  AZ Fact Check ’11 corrected an Arizona State Senator on attributing to Lincoln a quote against helping people do things they should be doing for themselves.  It’s another case of Twitter getting an elected official in trouble (not a lot of trouble, though, really).

The issue: Whether senator correctly quoted Lincoln

Who said it: Al Melvin, state senator

Arizona State Sen. Al Melvin, Dist 26

Arizona State Sen. Al Melvin, R-District 26

by Alia Beard Rau – June 22, 2011, 11:23 am

What we’re looking at
Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, tweeted a quote that he credited to President Abraham Lincoln.

The comment
“Abe Lincoln: ‘You cannot help people permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.’ We need to learn from this.”

The forum
Posted on Melvin’s Twitter account June 21.

Melvin on June 21 posted several quotes to his Twitter account relating to encouraging individuals to help themselves rather than giving them handouts. He attributed the quotes to Abraham Lincoln.

And Melvin isn’t alone. Others, including President Ronald Reagan, attributed these same quotes to Lincoln.

But according to several books, articles and the website Snopes that deals with debunking urban legends, Lincoln never said the quote.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger addressed the issue in a Washington Post column that ran Sept. 6, 1992.

“. . . in his Houston speech to the Republican National Convention, Ronald Reagan fell for one of the great hoaxes of American history, surpassed in taking people in only by H.L. Mencken`s enchanting fable about Millard Fillmore’s installing the first bathtub in the White House,” Schlesinger wrote. “The author of the less than immortal words Lincoln never said was an ex-clergyman from Erie, Pa., named William J.H. Boetcker.”

Boetcker in 1916 and 1917 produced two booklets based on lectures he gave. The quotes, including the one Melvin cites, are in those booklets.

According to Schlesinger, a conservative group in 1942 put out a leaflet titled “Lincoln on Limitation.” It listed legitimate Lincoln quotes on one side and legitimate Boetcker quotes on the other. Some versions attributed Boetcker’s quotes to Boetcker while others did not, leaving some readers to assume all were from Lincoln.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the quotes were mentioned or printed by increasingly legitimate sources and credited to Lincoln.

“Ever since, Lincoln scholars have been busy swatting the fake quotes down,” Schlesinger wrote. “In the 1960s, the Republican National Committee even warned its speakers, ‘Do not use them as Lincoln’s words!’ but to no avail.”

Bottom line: Historians appear to agree that Lincoln never said the quote that Melvin attributed to Lincoln. The quote was from William J.H. Boetcker.


They got me at that part where they listed sources with links. What a great little feature!

“We Engrave Herewith The Portrait – From A Photograph By Brady – Of Hon. Abram Lincoln, Of Illinois, The Republican Candidate For President” followed by a sketch of his career. Text below image reads “Hon. Abram Lincoln, Of Illinois, Republican Candidate For President./Photographed By Brady.”


Nota bene:  I failed to see this notice at that site:  “Fact Check is a service of The Arizona Republic, 12 News and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. It is not affiliated with www.FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.”



Bogus history: Engraved in stone

March 3, 2008

Quotes from patriots engraved on the walls greet visitors to the Texas State History Museum in Austin.

Unfortunately, in one case the engraved quote is now known to be bogus, a piece of fiction originally created for a children’s book.

Kent Biffle’s weekly article on Texas History in the Dallas Morning News reports the story:

Scholarly sleuth James E. Crisp will formally reveal to historians this week a jarring error literally carved in stone at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

In the sweeping lobby of the 6-year-old museum, a few steps from the state Capitol, visitors read on the wall stirring words of Tejano hero José Antonio Navarro:

“I will never forsake Texas and her cause. I am her son.”

The quote is a permanent feature of the museum – or was. Dr. Crisp says Señor Navarro (1795-1871) didn’t utter those words. But he will tell us who did.

Dr. Crisp reports his findings at the 2008 convention of the Texas State Historical Association, in Corpus Christi.

Read the rest of this entry »

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