Fake History

At the crossroads where legend and hype meet

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Quotation Index

Voltaire (1694-1778)

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. (misattributed; actual author Evelyn Hall; TNSI 124-126)

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

In whatever country Jews have settled in any great numbers, they have lowered the moral tone … If you do not exclude them from the United States, in the Constitution, in less than 200 years they will have swarmed in such great numbers that they will dominate and devour the land… (fake, TNSI 26-28)

I fully agreed with Gen. Washington that we must safeguard this young nation, as yet in swaddling clothes, from the insidious influence and impenetration of the Roman Catholic Church which pauperizes and degrades all countries and people over whom it holds sway. (fake; TNSI 28)

I would advise you therefore not to attempt unchaining the Tyger, but to burn this Piece before it is seen by any other Person, whereby you will save yourself a great deal of Mortification from the Enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a good deal of Regret and Repentance. If Men are so wicked as we now see them with Religion what would they be if without it? (Letter, 13 December 1757, recipient unknown; sometimes incorrectly said to be Thomas Paine)

Libraries … will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men, who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them, cannot be enslaved. It is in the regions of ignorance that tyranny reigns. (misattributed; written by Dr. Henry Stuber in a biographical sketch of Franklin; Fake History)

Lighthouses are more useful than churches. (fake; paraphrase of a 1757 passage; Fake History)

He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world. (fake; a hostile paraphrase by French royalist apologist Mallet du Pan, as modified by Henri Martin and translated by George Bandroft; Fake History)

[Freedom is] not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature. (misattributed; actual author John Webbe writing about the privileges enjoyed under British rule; Fake History)

I have lived, sir, a long time, and, the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” (Elliot’s Debates, Volume 5, p. 254)

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid. (questionable; not found in Franklin’s works and unknown before the twenty-first century)

James Otis (1725-1783)

Taxation without representation is tyranny. (misattributed; original author unknown; TNSI 102)

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. (misattributed; author unknown; TNSI 10)

George Washington (1732-1799)

What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ. (fake; Fake History)

You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. (Reply to Delaware leaders, 12 May 1779)

It is impossible to account for the creation of the universe without the agency of a Supreme Being. It is impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being. It is impossible to reason without arriving at a Supreme Being. Religion is as necessary to reason, as reason is to religion. The one cannot exist without the other. A reasoning being would lose his reason in attempting to account for the great phenomena of nature, had he not a Supreme Being to refer to; and well has it been said, that if there had been no God, mankind would have been obliged to imagine one. (attributed to Washington on unknown authority by James Paulding in a children’s book; Fake History)

It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. (fake; TNSI 126-127; Fake History)

It is impossible to govern a nation without God and the Bible. (fake)

You cannot govern without God in the picture. (misattributed and misquoted; original version written by James Montgomery Boice; Fake History)

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor… (opening of the 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation; Fake History)

True religion affords to government its surest support. (misattribution; written by the Synod of the Reformed Dutch Church and quoted by Washington in his reply)

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. (Farewell Address, 17 September 1796)

Oh, eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the Lamb and purge my heart by Thy Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of Thy son, Jesus Christ, that living in Thy fear, and dying in Thy favor, I may in thy appointed time obtain the resurrection of the justified unto eternal life. Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy son, Jesus Christ. (fake)

John Adams (1735-1826)

This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it. (Out of context; TNSI 3)

We recognize no sovereign but God, and no King but Jesus. (fake; Fake History; also attributed incorrectly to John Hancock, Jonas Clark, or an anonymous minuteman)

The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God. (fake; created by stringing together in a misleading fashion genuine phrases out of a letter to Jefferson; Fake History)

God is an essence that we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world. (fake; created by stringing together in a misleading fashion two genuine sentences from letters to Jefferson; Fake History)

The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity. (misattribution; actual author John Quincy Adams)

The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity. (misattributed; misquotation of John Quincy Adams)

While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation, while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world. Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. (To the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, 11 October 1798)

Philosophy looks with an impartial eye on all terrestrial religions. I have examined all, as well as my narrow sphere, my straitened means, and my busy life would allow me; and the result is, that the Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen; and such parts of it as I cannot reconcile to my little philosophy, I postpone for future investigation. (Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 25 December 1813)

The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity, and humanity, let the blackguard Paine say what he will; it is resignation to God, it is goodness itself to man. (Diary, 26 July 1796)

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized With pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore. (letter to his wife, 3 July 1776)

As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God; and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty, which the people owe to him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety, without which social happiness cannot exist, nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed… (Fast proclamation, 23 March 1798)

The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in His truth.  Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost.  There is no authority, civil or religious—there can be no legitimate government—but what is administered by the Holy Ghost.  There can be no salvation without it.  All without it is rebellion and perdition, or, in more orthodox words, damnation. [misquoted and out of context, as shown by the next words: “Although this is all Artifice and Cunning…”]

Patrick Henry (1736-1799)

There is a book [the Bible] worth all the other books ever printed. (attributed to Henry long after his death on the authority of a friend; Fake History)

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 strongly or too often that this great 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. (fake; a comment from the August 1956 issue of The Virginian first attributed to Henry in the 1980s; Fake History)

This is all the Inheritance I can give to my dear family, The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed[.] (a passage from his will)

I have now disposed of all my property to my family; there is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian Religion. If they had that, and I had not given them one shilling, they would be rich; and if they had not that, and I had given them all the world, they would be poor. (fake; an elaboration of the genuine passage from his will given above; first quoted in this form c1827)

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

When I get through, there will not be five Bibles left in America. (fake; TNSI 103)

Ethan Allen (1738-1789)

In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress! (quasi-fake; Allen says he said this on 10 May 1775 but his account is not supported by contemporary evidence. He was writing apparently only four years later, but others say his actual remark was either “Come out of here, you damned old Rat” or “Come out of there, you sons of British whores, or I’ll smoke you out.” TNSI 4.)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

That government is best which governs least. (misattributed; author unknown; TNSI 56)

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. (fake; TNSI 56)

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not. (fake; Fake History)

The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty. (fake)

I have always said, and always will say, that the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands. (from a letter by Daniel Webster written decades after the supposed statement; Fake History)

…no nation has yet existed or been governed without religion – nor can be – the Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man & I as the chief magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. (attributed long after Jefferson’s death on unknown authority)

Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (misquoted and misattributed; written by George Lyman Locke and first published in 1885; Fake History)

John Jay (1745-1829)

Almost all nations have peace or war at the will and pleasure of rulers whom they do not elect, and who are not always wise or virtuous. Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers. (letter to John Murray, Jr., 12 October 1826)

John Paul Jones (1747-1792)

I have not yet begun to fight. (fake; TNSI 57)

James Madison, Jr. (1751-1836)

Religion is the basis and foundation of government. (fake; Fake History)

Cursed be all that learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ. (misattributed)

We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of 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, sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God. (fake)

Americans have the right and advantage of being armed—unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. (fake, Fake History)

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

I have examined carefully … the evidence of the Christian religion; and, if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity, I should unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor. (attributed to Hamilton long after his death on the basis of the reminiscences of General Morton; Fake History)

I have studied it [the Christian religion], and I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man. (attributed to Hamilton long after his death on unknown authority; Fake History)

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)

The highest, the transcendent glory of the American Revolution was this—it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the precepts of Christianity. (letter to autograph collector, 27 April 1837)

Why is it that, next to the birth day of the Saviour of the World, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day ? … Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birth-day of the Saviour? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the corner stone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity, and  gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfilment of the prophecies, announced directly from Heaven at the birth of the Saviour and predicted by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets six hundred years before? (Newburyport Oration, 4 July 1837)

Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet. (misattributed; actually written by Charles Robert Winthrop)

William McGuffey (1800-1873)

The christian religion, is the religion of our country. From it are derived our prevalent notions of the character of God, the great moral governor of the universe. On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free institutions. (from “Duties of Parents and Teachers” in Transactions of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Western Literary Institute, Cincinnati, 1836, pp. 129-152)

For the copious extracts made from the Sacred Scriptures, he [the Compiler] makes no apology. Indeed, upon a review of the work, he is not sure but an apology may be due for his not having still more liberally transferred to his pages, the chaste simplicity, the thrilling pathos, the living descriptions, and the matchless sublimity of the sacred writings. (from the preface to the Third Eclectic Reader. The prefaces, though unsigned, are presumably by McGuffey. The first sentence is often misquoted as “From all these extracts from the Bible I make no apology.”)

From no source has the author drawn more conspicuously than from the sacred Scriptures. For this certainly he apprehends no censure. In a Christian country, that man is to be pitied, who, at this day, can honestly object to imbuing the minds of youth with the language and spirit of the word of God. (From the preface to the Fourth Eclectic reader.)

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)

America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great. (fake; misattributed and misquoted; the true author is either Andrew Reed or James Matheson, visitors to the United States from Great Britain during the Jackson administration. One of them wrote in a letter back home “America will be great if America is good. If not, her greatness will vanish away like a morning cloud.”)

You know, in America someone sees a problem that needs solving.  And they cross the street and talk to a neighbor about it.  And the first thing you know a committee is formed. Finally, the problem is solved.  You won’t believe this.  But not a single bureaucrat had anything to do with it. (fake; actual author Ronald Reagan updating de Tocqueville; TNSI 122-123)

U. S. Congress (1782)

The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools. (fake; Fake History)


TNSI = They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes & Misleading Attributions by Paul F. Boller and John George (Oxford University Press, 1989)

As usual, red = fake, purple = attributed, black = genuine

One Response to “Quotation Index”

  1. […] them most. ~ Less than 1 ounce of marijuana leads to arrests of over 60 Georgia partygoers ~ We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid. (questionable; not found in Franklin’s works and unknown […]

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