Sometimes it seems an uphill battle, disabusing people of the notion that Jefferson is the source of every smart, catchy thing ever said. I was reassured this week to find out that I'm not alone in my efforts. An intrepid blogger became suspicious of a supposed Jefferson quote that has risen to the surface during the recent financial upheaval, and decided to do some hard-core investigation. By sheer chance, I had recently run this particular non-quotation down
For my Fake TJ Stories files, and for the edification of our 6 devoted readers, I offer the following Reference Question Tale:
It is claimed, by websites and other sources various and sundry, that Thomas Jefferson, upon hearing of a meteorite crash in Connecticut in 1807 and its subsequent reportage by two professors at Yale, scoffed that it "was easier to believe that two Yankee professors could lie than to admit that stones could fall from heaven."
I know: again with the quotations! We are experiencing a strange swell in quotation questions, however, so it's pretty much all I have to talk about these days. There's one in particular that is bugging me, so I thought I'd throw it out to our 6 loyal readers in case there's a chance others can help crack this one.
A few days ago I set up a Google Alert to let me know when any new material appeared on the Internet (or technically speaking, in Google's index of the Internet) with the phrase "Thomas Jefferson." Amidst all the reportage of Thomas Jefferson High School's basketball triumph over West Diddlyfunk and so forth, in each day's update is a huge preponderance of blogs, columns and news articles that quote Jefferson.
Well, it took me all day but I plowed through all of the Google Alerts I've gotten in the past week (even the weekend ones, that's how dedicated I am), just as I said I would, and came up with the following numbers: A total of 22 websites quoted TJ in some form or fashion. (Mind you, the Alert catches only new material cropping up on the Web, not material that's already there.) The total quotes used came to 85, 35 of which were spurious. So if you choose to take my sampling
Most quotations we're asked about sound nothing like Thomas Jefferson, but since I can't pin down their true source, they sort of hang frustratingly out there in Quotation Limbo. So it gives me great satisfaction to be able to actually run one to ground once in a while. I just laid this one to rest:
"My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government."
Last September, I received a question from someone looking for a Jefferson letter titled, "The Value of Constitutions." Jefferson didn't usually bother to give his letters titles, so this was a bit puzzling. I finally figured out that this letter had been published in a volume edited by Edward Dumbauld, chapter 4 of which was titled, "The Value of Constitutions." It seemed pretty obvious that somewhere along the way, someone had quoted from the letter and attached the chapter title
We get a lot of questions from the public asking us to verify quotations as Jeffersonian or not, but these almost always concern only a single quotation. The other week I got a query from an inquiring person that contained not one, but 10 quotations. The source of the query was a sort of chain-email calling Jefferson a "prophet" - an appellation I suspect he would not in fact like very much - and listing 10 purported Jefferson quotations.