Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Misquoted quotes of American History Part. I

American history is steeped in famous quotations, with certain noted phrases inspiring great pride in many a patriot’s heart whenever they are red or uttered. Every one recalls the words of John F. Kennedy when he proclaimed, “Ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country.” However, many historical quotations are not so much remembered as mangled, misquoted, or misremembered. What is more, the more famous the quote, the more likely it was said by someone else.

“Give me Liberty or Give me Death”. Patrick Henry’s famous line is often quoted. But there’s no definitive proof that these were his words. The quote was attributed to Henry by William Wirt, his first biographer, who created so many factoids in his book that historians constantly ask the question” Is it fact or is it Wirt?’ We do know, however, that in 1765, when Henry was accused of treason, he uttered the words “If this be the treason make the most of it.” His reply, more courageous than any other speech given that year in response to the reviled stamp Act, caused a sensation. If the quote didn’t find a place in the history, it is probably because Henry apologized for his strong words.

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
                Nathan Hale is attributed with saying “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” just before he was hanged by the British at the young age of 21. But according to the journal of Captain Frederick Mackenzie, a British officer who was with Hale at his death, Hale’s last words actually were: “It is the duty of every good officer to obey any orders given him by his commander-in-chief.”
“The mass of Mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs…”

Thomas Jefferson is purported to have originated this metaphorical paean to the democratic spirit: “The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.”  In fact, Jefferson must have based the remark on a speech mad by 17th century English politician Richard Rumbold. In a famous speech delivered on a scaffold in 1685, just before he was hanged, Rumbold told the assembled that he did not “believe that providence had sent a few men into the world, ready booted and spurred to ride, and millions ready saddled and bridled to be ridden.’

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