Are you sure that’s what our forefathers said?

By Billy Dennis

One of the most damaging side effects of social media is the proliferation of misinformation. Spreading like a virus, it has begun to infect our society as a whole.

One recent phenomenon caught my eye: misquoting our founding fathers. I’m sure both factions of our political ideologies participate in some degree, but the lion’s share of these erroneous quotes comes from the conservative and Tea Party crowd.

Here, I have decided to tackle a few of their favorites.

“The Bible is the source of liberty.”

I find this one to be particularly puzzling since Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, and as such, did not exactly revere the Bible. Since Jefferson didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, he created the Jefferson Bible, which took out all mentions of miracles attributed to Jesus as well as any references to him being the Son of God.

The earliest source I could find that attributed this quote to Jefferson was from the 1952 book, Our Public Schools – Christian or Secular, by Renwick Harper Martin. Basically, we can blame this quote on America’s new religiosity in the face of Soviet atheism.

At the time this quote became famous, we were even amending our Pledge of Allegiance to include the words, “Under God.”
“Never trust a government that doesn’t trust its own citizens with guns.”

I’ve seen this quote numerous times as a result of the recent mass shootings and calls for stronger gun regulations. The only problem, Benjamin Franklin never said it. I have scoured Franklin’s writings looking for this quote, and it has proven to be quite elusive.

It’s not found is any of his Poor Richard’s Maxims and cannot be found in the digital archive of The Franklin Papers, a website sponsored by Yale University. The genesis of this quote appears to be a meme circulated on social media.

“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”
Sorry Libertarians, but Jefferson didn’t say this one either. It is one of those quotes we can all imagine him saying, which is exactly why it’s so pervasive today.

The earliest known appearance of this quote in print was in 1914. However, this quote was not attributed to Jefferson until 1994. Like the other quotes, this one can be directly tied into the politics of the time.

In 1994, two years into the Bill Clinton presidency, many Conservatives and Libertarians believed the government was becoming too intrusive and overreaching. This quote was used to bolster their point of view.

While we all enjoy reading and hearing our favorite quotes from the founding fathers, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to take quotes from the 18th and 19th century and superimpose them onto our politics today.

For example, one actual quote of Franklin’s that I hear all the time is, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

This quote made a lot of sense when the chief threats of the day were cannons and muskets, but something tells me Franklin would amend this quote if he lived with the threat of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue states and stateless terrorist groups coupled with our own jingoistic nature.


    • Researching:
      The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, digital edition;
      Thomas Jefferson: Papers and Thomas Jefferson: Biographies collections in Hathi Trust Digital Library;
      Thomas Jefferson Retirement Papers
      Earliest known appearance in print 1914
      Earliest known appearance in print attributed to Thomas Jefferson, 1994

  1. lets instead stick with the kewl progressive thinker truther wisdoms such as “the CIA shot JFK” “the Moon landing was faked” “coffee enemas cure cancer” “smoking weed prevents and cures cancer 100%”

  2. Oooooh! The eeeeeevillllllll Tea Party.

    Ironically, the pompous, rookie attempt at journalism above is itself highly biased, as well as misstates or misrepresents history, such as Jefferson’s Deism, and the .

    Also, there is precisely NO proof the assertions that certain quotes were not uttered by the people claimed, especially in some form if not precise citation.

    The Leftist propaganda in the silly piece borders on disgusting, such as:

    “it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to take quotes from the 18th and 19th century and superimpose them onto our politics today.”

    This pretty much sums up the pathology of Leftism, and it is utter nonsense: These anti-American, anti-Constitution Leftist tyrants and their “Polyezniy idioti” (“Useful idiots” – Lenin and Stalin, and YES they DID say it) have NO use for wisdom and universal truths, such as individual liberty, limited government, and the supreme legal document that guarantees them, because they stand square and strong in the way of their imposing tyranny at their whim.

  3. Hmmm……I would believe this, but this all sounds far too pro-government, anti-WeThePeople….. Whether they did say these things or not, the person that DID was a true man or woman of the People and I for one respect the hell out of them for stating the ACTUAL truth of things and how they should be. If you dont believe that Franklin said “Do not trust a government that does not trust its citizens with arms” then maybe you’ll believe THIS one….that actually IS plain as day to research. “To conquer a nation, you must first disarm its citizens.” – Adolf Hitler.

    • Caine murdered Able with a stick, David killed Goliath with a stone, Sampson slew a multitude with the jaw bone of an ass, which is holding office someplace nearby.

      The trouble is folks forget that history is written by the victors and over the bodies of their victims!

      We have moved so far forward that we are catching up with our own history, and if we don’t learn then we will forever repeat. I deliberately use quotes to show this post as irrelevant, the human experience is never static so weather Ben Franklin or Jefferson, or Mother Teresa said something or not changes not the sentiment nor the reason.

  4. Um…are YOU sure? And since I’M SURE you were there to hear and see everything the founders said and wrote, I’M SURE you’d know EVERYTHING the founders said and wrote. /s

    This is ridiculous speculation.

    • Yes, I’m sure. It’d take you less than twenty minutes to research each quote and see that I’m right. It’s not hard; you just have to do your homework.

      The only thing that could possibly be construed as speculation would be the last graph stating that I believe Franklin would re-think his position. But that’s okay, seeing how this is an opinion piece and not a news article.

      And to my dear friend Bobby: Anyone who says the moon landing was faked, or that anyone else besides Oswald shot Kennedy is woefully ignorant on the subject. I’d redirect you to my column: Conspiracy theories are the refuse for logical fallacies, in which I dismiss virtually all conspiracy theories, including any and all truther nonsense.

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