Government big enough to give you everything you want...(Quotation)

Quotation: "A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have."

Variations:

  1. "If your government is big enough to give you everything you want, it is big enough to take away everything you have."
  2. “Any government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have."
  3. "Government that is big enough to give everything you need and want is also strong enough to take it away."
  4. "Any government powerful enough to give the people all that they want is also powerful enough to take from the people all that they have."

Earliest known appearance in print: 1952 [1]

Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Jefferson: 2005[2]

Comments:  Neither this quotation nor any of its variant forms has been found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.  Its first known appearance in print was in 1953, although it is most likely older.  It appeared frequently in newspapers in the 1950s (usually unattributed), and was even used in political cartoons.  It was copyrighted in 1957 by the General Features Corporation, as part of a syndicated newspaper feature called "Today's Chuckle."  It later became a popular saying among Republican politicians.  Governor Harold W. Handley of Indiana used it in his annual message to the Indiana General Assembly in 1961;[3] Barry Goldwater was quoted using it in his 1964 run for president;[4] and Gerald Ford is on record using it in an address to a joint session of Congress on August 12, 1974.[5]  It was attributed to Ford as early as 1954, however,[6] and Ford's assistant, Robert Hartmann, said that Ford claimed to have heard the quotation "early in his political career" from Harvard McClain at the Economic Club of Chicago.[7]

This quotation was not attributed to Jefferson until relatively recently.  It is sometimes followed by, "The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases," which is most likely a misquotation of Jefferson's comment, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yeild, and government to gain ground."[8]

- Anna Berkes, 2007; revised 1/21/13

Further Sources

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Discussion

says

The quote may even go back to Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), founder and long-time president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

says

I actually read a similar statement in the book, An Enemy hath Done This, written by Ezra Taft Benson (Sec. Dept. of Agriculture under Eisenhower), published in 1969. Stated in this book as follows:

"Any government powerful enough to give the people all that they want is also powerful enough to take from the people all that they have."

says

In "Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right," Lisa McGirr cites Theodore H. White, "The Making of the President, 1964" [New York: Atheneum, 1965], page 337. White attributed the following statement to Barry Goldwater, who included it in a speech to supporters in Fullerton, California, while he was pursuing the Republican candidacy for president.
"government that is big enough to give you everything you want is also strong enough to take it away."

says

Thanks and kudos to you both for spotting these earlier variations, Lisa and kcc! I will note them in the article.

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