An interesting article in the Washington Post talks about the increase in misquotes of the founding fathers, and blames it on the internet, where incorrect information is repeated so much that even politicians think it is true. Here are a few examples:
“Thomas Jefferson wrote that government is best that governs least.” – Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in his victory speech on the night he was elected. Jefferson never said that, Henry David Thoreau did.
“Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” – Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) claiming to quote George Washington, even though Washington never said those words.
“As Jefferson said, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” – Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC). At least Foxx has the excuse that this quote has been misattributed to Jefferson since 1838. And a virtually identical statement was attributed to Jefferson by Congressman Marlin Stutzman (R-IN).
“President George Washington said that the right to keep and bear arms is ‘the most effectual means of preserving peace'”. – Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). But Washington actually said “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”
“The democracy will cease to exist, when you take away from those who are willing to work to give to those who would not.” – Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), claiming to be quoting Jefferson. Except those words were never said by Jefferson, and in fact were first uttered in 1986.
While not a quote, Sarah Palin also got into the act by claiming that Paul Revere warned the British that they couldn’t take away the guns of the colonists.
And then there was Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) giving a speech where she claimed that the battles of Lexington and Concord took place in New Hampshire.
Getting it wrong is not exclusive to Republicans. Even Obama gets it wrong. At least twice he has quoted the Declaration of Independence, saying “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that each of us are endowed with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But the document actually says “that they are endowed by their Creator“.
While misquoting the founders seems to be increasing, it has a very long tradition. During George Washington’s second term as president, his political enemies circulated letters that expressed admiration for England’s King George III (an enemy) claiming they were from Washington. However, the letters had been faked.