“Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” – Abraham Lincoln, Address to the Cooper Institute, 1860
“Those who seek this are all best men; those who effect it are considered the chief leaders in and the preservers of their states.” – Cicero, Pro Sestio, XLV., 98
Misattributed Quote #1
This one I found a few days ago after browsing a political forum when someone mentioned it.
“War against an external foe is a most excellent means of distracting the populist from grievances at home the prince.” – Machiavelli, The Prince
This one actually came with not only the person, but one of their works! Nonetheless, I tried looking up this quote, to no avail. Thinking it was a different translation, I searched keywords, went through the entire text, and found nothing. That doesn’t mean that its a lost cause. While the quote was not to have been said by Machiavelli, a very similar saying has been said by found father James Madison during the constitutional debates, of which is below.
“In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence [sic] against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”
Speaking of the founding fathers, I’ve seen misquotes from both sides of the political isle, each trying to justify this policy or that policy. They’ve made their way into books, pamphlets, and have even been quoted by presidential candidates as if it was fact.
One of these is attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “That government is best which governs least.” While I agree with the sentiment that this quote gives, it was not said by Jefferson (my favorite founding father by the way). Surely this quote must have a source then.
Well it actually does. Initially, like with other misattributed quotes, I thought this was going to be the invention of some book writer anytime between the 1980s and the present day, but it wasn’t. The one who actually penned these words is unfortunately unknown as the Monticello website states that “this quotation has been associated with the ideological descendants of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican party for a very long time, and this is likely why it ultimately came to be attributed to him.” The earliest record I could find for this quote is at the beginning of Henry David Thoreau’s book “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”. Even then, he only described it as a motto, of which is still of unknown origin.
“I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.”