Weird History

Famous US Presidential Quotes That No President Ever Said 

Mike Rothschild
Updated June 14, 2019 14.7k views 18 items

Many American presidents have been masters at speaking, writing, and inspiring the masses. Sadly, fake presidential quotes are just as real as actual presidential quotes - and the mis-quotes are often cited by scholars and politicians. Some are decades old and given new life by the Internet, while others are recent inventions dreamed up by authors or anonymous figures.

Spotting fake quotes by United States presidents isn't actually all that hard. First, look for something that doesn't have a source or date attached to it. Many fake quotes used on Internet memes are like this, usually just the quote itself with the speaker's face. If it doesn't have a source, an attribution, or a date, it's likely made up. Also, look for quotes that contradict what you actually know about that president. Many fake quotes attached to Founding Fathers are directly the opposite of what they believed or wrote about. If all that fails, just do a quick search on it. If it's a fake, someone before you figured it out and will let you know.

Here are some of the most famous quotes from US presidents that they didn't actually say.
George Washington on the Purpose of the Senate
George Washington on the... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Famous US Presidential Quotes That No President Ever Said
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY

The Quote: "Even so, we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it."

The Truth: Purported to come from an exchange of letters between Washington and Thomas Jefferson, this quote, comparing laws to coffee poured into a cup to cool it off, is all over the Internet. It's even cited on the Senate's official web page. The problem is nobody can find evidence of either the quote, or the conversation itself. In fact, there's no reference to the quote at all until 1884, in Harper's Magazine. It's supposedly Washington trying to talk Jefferson into a bicameral legislature - except Jefferson wasn't against one.
John Adams and the Three Thirds
John Adams and the Three... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Famous US Presidential Quotes That No President Ever Said
Photo: Metaweb/GNU Free Documentation License

The Quote: "I estimate that one-third of Americans supported the Revolution, one-third opposed it, and one-third was neutral."

The Truth: Adams's quote is often used to point out that not all citizens of the colonies were actually against British rule. While this is true, what Adams said has nothing to do with that at all.

The actual quote, from a letter Adams wrote in 1813, is, “I should say that full one third were averse to the revolution. These, retaining that overweening fondness, in which they had been educated, for the English, could not cordially like the French; indeed, they most heartily detested them. An opposite third conceived a hatred for the English, and gave themselves up to an enthusiastic gratitude to France. The middle third, composed principally of the yeomanry, the soundest part of the nation and always averse to war, were rather lukewarm to both England and France…”

He's talking about American views on the French Revolution, not their own.
John Adams on Debt
John Adams on Debt is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Famous US Presidential Quotes That No President Ever Said
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY

The Quote: "There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt."

The Truth: This quote is often used by conservatives to point out the danger of nations running up extreme national debt. Unfortunately, there's no documentation of Adams ever having said this, and the quote has no attribution or date attached to it. Some sources have him using it in a letter in 1826 - the year he died.
Thomas Jefferson on Liberty
Thomas Jefferson on Libe... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Famous US Presidential Quotes That No President Ever Said
Photo: Metaweb/CC-BY

The Quote: "When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."

The Truth: There are so many fake Thomas Jefferson quotes that the third president's estate, Monticello, maintains a website devoted just to debunking things he never said. Probably the most widely quoted faux Jefferson line is this one, often used by Second Amendment advocates and small government conservatives.

As the Monticello site makes clear, Jefferson never said either this or any of its variations. Instead, it appears to be from a debate on socialism from 1914.