“I Cannot Tell A Lie”

We’ve all heard the story demonstrating George Washington’s impeccable honesty when, as a boy, he confessed to his father that he had chopped down a cherry tree. You’ve probably also heard that this story is a complete fabrication, though it has become firmly cemented into American mythology through sheer repetition.

Similarly, there are a plethora of pseudo-quotes attributed to our first President which have nothing supporting them but hundreds of “quote” websites which eagerly repeat the same lines without any form of citation. My “bogus quote detector” began tingling (it works sort of like Spidey-sense) when I saw the following meme show up multiple times on my Facebook feed yesterday:

A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government

Upon investigation (which took all of about 3 minutes), my suspicion was confirmed: Washington never said this.

As I’ve tried to show this week, there is ample support in the historical record to demonstrate that many of our Founding Fathers did insist on the right of private citizens to bear arms, and that they were concerned with the ability to keep the government in check as a defense against tyranny. So there is absolutely no reason to resort to fake quotes to “prove” the point!

For the record, here is the actual quote (taken from Washington’s First Annual Message to Congress in 1790) which was mutilated into the form seen above (source):

A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end, a uniform and well digested plan is requisite: and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others for essential, particularly for military supplies.

If you get a chance, you really ought to read the entire address. I love reading Washington’s speeches; he truly had a way with words! If you read closely, you’ll notice some foreshadowing of the raising of an army to fight the “hostile tribes of Indians”, which I mentioned in my post from a week ago…

It is also important to note that this Address was intended to promote “the general and increasing good will toward the Government of the Union.” Washington’s task as our first President was to unite the formerly independent (and sometimes fiercely so) States under a Federal government, and to instill confidence in that government. Therefore the tone of the bogus quote is completely contrary to the purpose of the original, though the sentiment may be less far off.

This concludes another installment of “Meme-Busters”. Thanks for reading and remember: When using social media, please “share” responsibly. Friends don’t let friends abuse history!

To be prepared for war, is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”
~ One of the better (genuine) quotes from Washington’s “First Address”

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