J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, August 08, 2014

Founders’ Favorite Quotations, part 2

As I explained yesterday, last month a website publishing for the technology world asked more than three dozen company founders to share their favorite quotations from America’s Founders.

Some of those were actual quotations from America’s Founders. Others, not so much. But we’re entering a good stretch.

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” –Thomas Paine
From Paine’s Common Sense.

“Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.” –George Washington
Washington to Gen. Philip Schuyler, 20 Aug 1775.

“Well done is better than well said.” –Benjamin Franklin
This saying appeared in Poor Richard’s Almanac for 1737. However, it’s likely that someone else has written this before Franklin. He copied a lot of the sayings in his almanacs straight out of published books when he wanted to fill space on a page. Americans like to attribute those quotations to him, but in fact he was usually quoting someone else.

“To be good and to do good is all we have to do.” –John Adams
Adams to his daughter Abigail, 17 Mar 1777.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” –Benjamin Franklin
Franklin writing for the Pennsylvania assembly, 11 Nov 1755.

“Beware of rashness, but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.” –Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln to Gen. Joseph Hooker, 26 Jan 1863—but Lincoln was not actually a Founder.

“Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee.” –Benjamin Franklin
Poor Richard’s Almanac for 1735. But published previously in 1605 and (with “your” instead of “thy”) 1712.

“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.” –Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson to his daughter Martha, 5 May 1787, while he was in Marseilles.

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” –Thomas Jefferson
False, according to Monticello.

“A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind…Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.” –Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson to his nephew Peter Carr, 19 Aug 1785, while he was in Paris.

“We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.” –George Washington
Washington to John Armstrong, 26 Mar 1781, though he actually wrote, “We ought not to look back…”

“That government is best which governs least.” –Thomas Jefferson
False, according to Monticello.

“Whenever you do something, act as if all the world were watching.” –Thomas Jefferson
Not found in Founders Online or other authorities or all of Google Books. Nor a thought that fits well with Jefferson’s private behavior, which he liked to keep private.

“Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” –Benjamin Franklin
Poor Richard’s Almanac for 1735. But in print as early as 1639.

So out of these fourteen items, seven are traceable to eighteenth-century American writings (though one is slightly misquoted). Three were published by Franklin, though he didn’t coin two and may not have coined any; three are falsehoods about Jefferson; and one is from a man born in 1809.

TOMORROW: The final batch, plus wrestling with Wirt.


John L. Smith said...

I look forward to your look at Wirt's treatment of Thomas Paine!

John Johnson said...

The Franklin quote about giving up liberty is generally quoted out of context too. Most people who quote it use it to show the dangers of encroachment by government on private liberties, when that's not what Franklin was arguing for.

J. L. Bell said...

True, though different people draw the line between public and private liberties differently. I was just pleased that the quotation included the modifiers: "essential," "temporary."