05 November 2011

Old Fakes Resurface; Film at Eleven

Jon Rowe calls my attention to new sightings of old fakes … fake quotations, that is. A certain Larry Klayman (“Occupy Washington with God”) cites the Founders, or what he takes to be the Founders, in support of his nebulous position on the place of religion in government. But did the Founders actually say the things he attributes to them? Well, yes—and no. Let’s have a rundown, shall we?

He starts by alluding to, but not quoting from, a genuine letter of John Adams, and follows that up with a genuine quotation that quickly turns awry:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. … We have no constitution which functions in the absence of a moral people.
This comes from a letter Adams wrote on 11 October 1798 to the officers of the First Brigade, Third Division, of the Massachusetts Militia. The relevant text reads:
But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
(The portions quoted are given in bold.) The sentence “We have no constitution which functions in the absence of a moral people” is not part of this letter, and is not Adams. The oldest reference Google Books comes up with is from 2001. It seems to be a paraphrase of the genuine letter.

Klayman goes on to Adams’ son, John Quincy, whom he describes as “an even greater president than his father”, and there fails miserably. His quotation:
Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet. … The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity (July 4, 1821).
None of this is John Quincy’s. The first part comes from an 1849 address by Charles Robert Winthrop to the Massachusetts Bible Society, and the second from an 1860 introduction to a volume of sermons edited by John Wingate Thornton.

Klayman does no better with Patrick Henry. His one example is the familiar “religionists” quotation debunked many times before. It is not, of course, by Henry, but by a writer for the Virginian; the words were written in 1956 and first attributed to Henry at some time in the 1980s. They are manifestly fake in any case.

Moving on to Jefferson Klayman does a little better—he presents what he thinks are two quotations from him, but in fact are five fragments oddly joined to one another. Klayman presents them in this form:
God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the mind of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God?
and
Deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support…. I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our creator.
Here are the originals, in the order Klayman presented them. First, from the conclusion of A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774), we have
Let them name their terms, but let them be just. Accept of every commercial preference it is in our power to give for such things as we can raise for their use, or they make for ours. But let them not think to exclude us from going to other markets to dispose of those commodities which they cannot use, or to supply those wants which they cannot supply. Still less let it be proposed that our properties within our own territories shall be taxed or regulated by any power on earth but our own. The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them. This, sire, is our last, our determined resolution; and that you will be pleased to interpose with that efficacy which your earnest endeavors may ensure to procure redress of these our great grievances to quiet the minds of your subjects in British America, against any apprehensions of future encroachment, to establish fraternal love and harmony through the whole empire, and that these may continue to the latest ages of time, is the fervent prayer of all British America.
Joined to it, with no indication that the one sentence did not originally follow the other, we have from the anti-slavery section of Notes on the State of Virginia this passage:
For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labour. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.
So much for Klayman’s first “quotation”, a very questionable piece of work. It’s not original with him, however, being found on panel three of the Jefferson Memorial. The second “quotation” is even more questionable, being made up of no less than three dismembered fragments of genuine material. First, from a reply to Captain John Thomas (18 November 1807):
Among the most inestimable of our blessings, also, is that you so justly particularize, of liberty to worship our Creator in the way we think most agreeable to His will; a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government, and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.
Notice here that it is not religion (as Klayman lets us suppose) that is “deemed in other countries incompatible with good government,” but religious freedom—a serious distortion of the original. The other two are even worse, as they get into Jefferson’s objections to orthodox Christianity. The first fragment comes from a letter to Charles Thomson, who had recently put together a harmony of the four gospels. Jefferson wrote about it to him on 9 January 1816, and went on to describe his own project in that line:
I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus; it is a paradigma of His doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its Author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great Reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were He to return on earth, would not recognize one feature.
Note, by the way, that Jefferson described himself as a “disciple of the doctrines of Jesus” rather than a “disciple of Jesus”; a not insignificant distinction. Also that this fragment has been taken badly out of context, and has nothing to do with christianizing government in any respect. The other fragment is equally misleading, being ripped from its context and juxtaposed with extraneous material. Jefferson was writing on 27 February 1821 to Timothy Pickering about his beliefs—specifically that the pure doctrines of Jesus had been adulterated with mystical concepts, particularly that of the trinity.
The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce its Founder an impostor. Had there never been a commentator, there never would have been an infidel. In the present advance of truth, which we both approve, I do not know that you and I may think alike on all points. As the Creator has made no two faces alike, so no two minds, and probably no two creeds. We well know that among Unitarians themselves there are strong shades of difference, as between Doctors Price and Priestley, for example. So there may be peculiarities in your creed and in mine. They are honestly formed without doubt. I do not wish to trouble the world with mine, nor to be troubled for them. These accounts are to be settled only with Him who made us; and to Him we leave it, with charity for all others, of whom, also, He is the only rightful and competent Judge. I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also.
In other words, Jefferson thought (incorrectly) that the country as a whole was moving in the direction of unitarianism. There is nothing in this to suggest that he thought the intermingling of religion and government was a good thing—not even to promote “the pure doctrines of Jesus” or “the unity of the Creator”.

Last we come to an alleged quotation from George Washington. It reads:
I am sure that never was a people, who had more reason to acknowledge a Divine inspiration in their affairs, than those of the United States, and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten … the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them. … True religion affords to the government it surest support. Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society. … It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
Most of these fragments are reasonably legitimate, but they do not actually belong together, with or without ellipses. The first is from a letter to John Armstrong, written 11 March 1792. Here it is in its entirety:
Dear Sir: I am persuaded that no one will be more ready than yourself to make the proper allowances for my not having sooner acknowledged the receipt of your friendly letter of the 23d. of December, as you there express a conviction, that the pressure of my public duties will allow me but very little time to attend to my private correspondences. This is literally the truth, and to it must be imputed the lateness as well as the brevity of this letter.

The loss of the brave Officers and men, who fell in the late unfortunate affair at the westward, is, I hope, the only one which the Public sustain on the occasion, that cannot be readily repaired. The loss of these is not only painful to their friends; but is a subject of serious regret to the Public. It is not, however, our part to despond; we must pursue such measures as appear best calculated to retrieve our misfortune, and give a happy issue to the business. I am sure there never was a people, who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs, than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency, which was so often manifested during our Revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them.

Your friendly wishes for my happiness and prosperity are received with gratitude, and are sincerely reciprocated by, dear Sir, your affectionate, &c.
The next is a misattribution, in that the words were written to George Washington, rather than by him. Here is the passage, written (9 October 1789) by the synod of the Reformed Dutch Church of North America to him:
To our constant prayers for the welfare of our country, and of the whole human race, we shall esteem it our duty and happiness to unite our most earnest endeavors to promote the pure and undefiled religion of Christ; for as this secures eternal felicity to men in a future state, so we are persuaded that good Christians will always be good citizens, and that where righteousness prevails among individuals the nation will be great and happy. Thus while just government protects all in their religious rights, true religion affords to government its surest support.
Next, from a reply he wrote to the Philadelphia Protestant Clergy on 3 March 1797:
Believing, as I do, that Religion and Morality are the essential pillars of civil society, I view, with unspeakable pleasure, that harmony and Brotherly Love which characterizes the clergy of different denominations—as well in this as in other parts of the United States; exhibiting to the world a new and interesting spectacle, at once the pride of our Country and the surest basis of universal Harmony.
The final portion comes from his Farewell Address, in which he emphasizes the importance of public education:
It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.
It’s worth noting that nothing he says there concerns religion, but rather is about “the general diffusion of knowledge”.

This is not an impressive showing. A large proportion of Klayman’s “quotations” are misattributed, taken out of context, and given new meanings by juxtaposing them with other fragments. His sources are not particularly reputable—at least one of these, the Jefferson “real christian” frankenquote, goes back to the internet document sometimes called “Forsaken Roots” and William Federer’s notorious America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations appears to be another contributor, whether directly or indirectly. There really isn’t any excuse. If you’ve got a connection to the internet, you’ve got access to the papers of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at the Library of Congress website, to various editions of the works of Patrick Henry and John Adams at Google Books and The Internet Archive, and a vast compendium of other sources that rival even the greatest print libraries of the past.

Come on people—is it really that much trouble to get these things right?

2 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Exc fisk, sbh. However, although there are slight overreaches and flourishes in the bum quotes/paraphrases, on the whole they do reflect the sentiments of those "quoted."

The Washington mishmosh does have its roots in actual sources, and i don't think Jefferson's context of slavery lessens its relevance on the nature of rights in the least---in fact by extending the principle of rights to even slaves, it makes the argument stronger, not weaker.

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?

remains the question of this post-Christian age. Secular theorists have been trying to replace "endowed by their creator" for centuries now, but really haven't succeeded.

[God'] justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.

This is actually one of Jefferson's most religious/Providential quotes, so I think "Klayman’s first “quotation”, a very questionable piece of work" is actually one of his best here.

But a conscientious and thorough job here, SBH. My compliments.

Our Founding Truth said...

Adams may not have used those exact words in the second part of the quote, but it is an accurate summary. Adams' Oration clearly establishes the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the foundation of our govt:

"Why is it that, next to the birth day of the Saviour of the World, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day ? — And why is it that, among the swarming myriads of our population, thousands and tens of thousands among us, abstaining, under the dictate of religious principle, from the commemoration of that birth-day of Him, who brought life and immortality to light, yet unite with all their brethren of this community, year after year, in celebrating this, the birth-day of the nation?

Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birth-day of the Saviour? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the gospel dispensation? Is it not that the
Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth? That it laid the corner stone of human "government upon the first precepts of Christianity, and gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfilment of the prophecies, announced directly from Heaven at the birth of the Saviour and predicted by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets six hundred years before?"

All Klayman had to do on this quote was write "accurate summary." As to the rest, it is shoddy work.

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