Various quotations, attributed to famous people, are frequently cited on The Internet in support of this or that popular cause. This in itself is a logical fallacy, the “Appeal to Authority.” The argument is, “This famous person supports our cause! So how can you not support our cause? Do you know more than this famous person?” The argument fails if the famous person being quoted is not an acknowledged authority on the subject, or if there is disagreement among authorities, or if the famous person’s quotation is taken out of context. The argument certainly fails is the famous person never even said what is attributed to him.
Here is a sample of some of the bogus quotations that are being circulated, mostly on Twitter and Facebook, attributed to various of the United States “founding fathers” on the subject of gun control.
1. “Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not.” Attributed to Thomas Jefferson (spoofed above in LOLCat.)
Monticello.org has this to say:
Earliest known appearance in print: No appearances in print found.
Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Thomas Jefferson: See above.
Other attributions: None known.
Status: We have not found any evidence that Thomas Jefferson said or wrote, “Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not.”
The pro-gun website SAF.org sourly has this to say about the fake Jefferson quotes:
“Thomas Jefferson has many confirmed quotes on our website. Why anyone felt it necessary to make up a quote is ludicrous. Maybe an anti-gunner did it to discredit all the real quotes.”
2. “A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.”—George Washington.
This is the Zombie Fake Quote that can’t be killed! What makes it so pernicious is that Washington did say something very similar, but the Fake Quote has been manipulated in order to give it a meaning that is quite different from the original context. Here is the authentic Washington quote:
“A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies.”
The original quotation shows that Washington clearly intended a country to have industrial independence. The bogus, manipulated quotation attempts to insinuate that people need to have weapons in order to resist their own government, a sentiment that Washington clearly did not share when he forcibly put down the Whisky Rebellion and Shay’s Rebellion.
3. “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence. The church, the plow, the prairie wagon, and citizen’s firearms are indelibly related. From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to insure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and the pistol are equally indispensable.”
—another bogus George Washington quote.
Guncite.com, a pro-2nd Amendment website, warned its supporters to avoid using this fake quote. Of course nobody listens to them, this bogus quotation is all over the Internet.
This quotation, sometimes called the “liberty teeth” quote, appears nowhere in Washington’s papers or speeches, and contains several historical anachronisms: the reference to “prairie wagon” in an America which had yet to even begin settling the Great Plains (which were owned by France at the time), the reference to “the Pilgrims” which implies a modern historical perspective, and particularly the attempt by “Washington” to defend the utility of firearms (by use of statistics!) to an audience which would have used firearms in their daily lives to obtain food, defend against hostile Indians, and which had only recently won a war for independence.
The “99 99/100 percent” is also an odd phrase for 18th century America, which tended not to use fractional percentages. It’s clear that “Washington” is addressing “gun control” arguments which wouldn’t exist for another couple of centuries, not to mention doing so in a style that is uncharacteristic of the period, and uncharacteristic of Washington’s addresses to Congress, both of which exhibited a high degree of formality.
4. “1935 will go down in History! For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration! Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient and the world will follow our lead to the future!”—Attributed to Adolf Hitler IM”S.
From our friends at SAF.org:
This passage sometimes features different punctuation and slight wording changes including a beginning of, ‘For the first time in history, a….’ Various citations include: Adolf Hitler, April 15, 1935, in address to the Reichstag; Adolf Hitler 1935 ‘Berlin Daily’ (Loose English Translation) April 15th, 1935 Page 3 Article 2 by Einleitung Von Eberhard Beckmann -“Abschied vom Hessenland!”. “Adolf” is sometimes misspelled as ‘Adolph’ on the Internet.
While the above ‘quote’ makes a nice T-shirt, there are numerous problems with this alleged statement. (1) It violates the rule of not beginning a sentence with a number. (2) It isn’t phrased in Hitler’s style. (3) Major changes to the German gun laws occurred in 1928 and 1931 (under the Weimar Republic) and in 1938 (under the Nazi’s). No significant changes happened in the gun registration laws in 1935. Furthermore, the changes in 1928 and 1931 were designed to disarm the Nazis and Communists and therefore it is doubtful that Hitler would trumpet the success of any law aimed at his goon squads.
Until then, please click here for some proven Nazi Quotes. (Coming soon)
[Link never provided!—VB]
5. “It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the vote!”—attributed to Josef Stalin.
This one is obviously bogus for a number of reasons. First, Stalin did not speak English, and would not have made a pun in English, but which makes no sense in Russian. Second, votes were not counted in Stalin’s Soviet Union. All votes were for the Party, Stalin always received 100% of the vote.
A similar quote was actually said by William M. “Boss” Tweed, a corrupt 19th-century New York political lord. “As long as I count the vote, what are you going to do about it?” Why don’t right-wingers quote “Boss” Tweed? Maybe they don’t even know who he was.
6. “You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot lift the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”—attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Frequently quoted by those who would deny government benefits such as food stamps to poor people.
These silly little aphorisms were actually composed by William John Henry Boetcker, some dude that nobody ever heard of. He seems to have been a 19th-Century Bryan J. Fischer. One of those to mistakenly attribute this collection to Lincoln was none other than everybody’s affable granddaddy Ronald Reagan. Snopes has the whole story. Other conservative politicians and pundits (Rush Limbaugh, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Sean Hannity) have also done so.
The Master Forger of Fake Quotes is revisionist fantasist David Barton, who has created many bogus quotations which he pulled right out of his lower orifice and attributed to the “Founding Fathers” in order to create the myth that they were evangelical Christians instead of rationalists. The David Barton Fake Quotes that Refuse to Die!
How can you tell if a quote attributed to a famous person is fake?
Generally speaking the rule to identifying Fake Quotes is:
1. If it’s on The Internet it is probably fake. (however real quotes have occasionally, although rarely, been found on The Internet)
2. Fake Quotes show up frequently on Quote Aggregate sites which do nothing but collect “Quotes from famous people” but never check them for accuracy or authenticity. Sites to stay away from: BrainyQuote, ThinkExist, Wikiquote, TheQuoteFactory.
3. If it’s in a book, it is probably authentic. However fake quotes have also appeared in print before there was The Internet.
Here is a page complaining about Fake Quotes attributed to Mark Twain.
If you come across any quotes that you think might be bogus, please share them!
Feel free to Tweet this page to anyone on Twitter you think is spreading Fake Quotes.