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Top 10: Misconceptions about Jefferson

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Spurious Quotations

A collection of quotations commonly misattributed to Thomas Jefferson.

Discussion

says

I believe I have another spurious quote for you. It's found on a number of webpages but not one with a citation.

"The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations."

says

This one was slippery, but I think I figured it out. It's Noam Chomsky (or perhaps David Barsamian) + Jefferson. I've created a new spurious quotation page for this one, and you can see all the details there: http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/end-democracyquo...

says

Here's a curious one:
"Some people will believe anything, so long as it eliminates the awful requirement of thought. Our electors are like a cork in a bathtub, they bound joyfully about the tub without direction of plan, until the master of the System gives them direction and instruction, which they gladly Follow. Thomas Jefferson, 1816"
That's from Adrian Krieg. Our Political Systems. Oakland, OR: Elderberry Press, 2004. p.124. Among other red flags, Krieg's "Cultural Doctorate in Manufacturing Science" from World University reminds me of the first part of the "quote," that "Some people will believe anything"....

says

That is curious. The only source I can find, anywhere, that uses that quotation is Adrian Krieg's book. It also looks like something of a hybrid - the first sentence has a more modern ring than the rest of it. If you spot this quotation anywhere else, let me know.

says

I suspect this isn't Jefferson, as many claim: "In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock."

There are some close variations on it, some of which have a real Jefferson quote appended as part of it. Just trying to source it very quickly, the oldest occurrence I found was in More Borrowings. San Francisco: C.A. Murdock & Co., 1891, where it was unattributed. Oldest one attributing it to Jefferson was New Medical Schools at Home and Abroad: Report of a Macy Conference (1978).

says

Christopher, you are quite right - that is not a Jefferson quotation as far as we know. The variations of this quote that you found with real Jefferson quotes attached to them are interesting - I've seen that phenomenon before with other quotes, but not this one (until now).

I had another question about the "swim with the current" quote not too long ago, so it's on my list to do an article on this one. Stay tuned!

says

Thanks!

says

Undoubtedly sometime in our lives we hear someone begin a phrase, "Well, as Thomas Jefferson once said..." We typically go about our lives without wondering is that something that Thomas Jefferson actually said or wrote. Monticello's librarians, however, have taken on the task of verifying some popularly cited Jefferson "quotations" that they come across. Here's a collection of some of the bogus quotations containing interesting tidbits about the detective work the librarians undertook.

says

This is a fantastic example of our learned and witty librarians at work!

says

It's not that quotes get mistakenly attributed to Jefferson that fascinates me so much as the types of quotes that do and how, in a couple of cases, the quotes already have great pedigrees. For instance, the "That government is best which governs least" is by Henry David Thoreau, not Jefferson. But you get the sense that many people would rather it were by Jefferson because of his key role in the nation's founding. What's also fairly amusing is that when I check to see what search phrases bring people to the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia site (and not just the Spurious Quotes page), two of the top ten are quotes frequently misattributed to Jefferson.

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