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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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Founders’ Favorite Quotations, part 1

Last month, Ronald Barba rounded up tech company founders’ favorite quotations from America’s Founders. But are all those quotations authentic enough to invest in? Let’s audit that list.

“The purpose of money is to purchase the freedom to pursue that which was useful and interesting.” –Benjamin Franklin
This is a quotation from H. W. Brands’s 2000 biography of Franklin, not from Franklin himself.

“If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him.” –Benjamin Franklin
Attributed to Franklin as early as 1849, but not traceable to any specific work by him.

“Here sir, the people govern.” –Alexander Hamilton
Hamilton in 1788, arguing for ratification of the U.S. Constitution in New York. By “here” he was not referring to the U.S. of A. as a whole. He was speaking about the House of Representatives as opposed to the Senate, which was then to be elected by state legislatures—i.e., not by the people.

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.” –Benjamin Franklin
Attributed to Franklin in the 1890s, after it had appeared as a maxim in school textbooks with no credited coiner.

“Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” –Alexander Hamilton
Actually said by the British journalist Alex Hamilton in a 1978 radio broadcast and published later that year. Other people had previously said much the same with different wording.

“A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.” –Thomas Jefferson
Derived from a longer sentence in Jefferson’s draft of proposed instructions to Virginia’s delegates to the First Continental Congress in 1774, published in a pamphlet titled A Summary View of the Rights of British America.

“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” –Benjamin Franklin
Not from Franklin, though attributed to him since around the Bicentennial.

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” –Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson to John Adams, 1 Aug 1816.

Finally a quotation of a complete sentence, correctly attributed and not taken out of context! That makes two out of eight so far. On that note, I’ll stop for today.

TOMORROW: More quotations, and the Poor Richard problem.


John L. Smith said...

I trust just about NO Founders' "sound bites", and trust NOTHING attributed to anyone on the Internet. Thanks J.L.!

G. Lovely said...

"It's not the things you don't know that make you a fool, it's the things you know for sure that just ain't so."

Mark Twain
or was it Will Rogers?