In my previous life as a fact check reporter, I became known for my fact-checking of spurious quotations. That is, I broke the news to people that that line from their favorite founding father in their Twitter bio was total fake news. I even once fact-checked a coworkers email signature that featured a spurious quote by Edmund Burke. When it comes to people like Burke, Mark Twain, any of the founding fathers, and even Morgan Freeman, there are a ton of oft-repeated quotes that may seem well-intentioned, but just can’t be traced back to that person. And yes, I’m well aware that they “could” have said it and it just isn’t recorded, but if the Mark Twain museum doesn’t have proof he said it, how did you get it? 

One of my beats became fake George Washington quotes. Yes, the first president of this great country authored some spectacular lines, but there’s a lot that he didn’t say and that isn’t found anywhere in his recorded speeches or letters or speeches and letters about him. 

Here are ten of the best quotes often attributed to George Washington that simply aren’t from him at all. 

“When a nation mistrusts its citizens with guns, it’s sending a clear message… It no longer trusts its citizens because such a government has evil plans.”

While it’s possible that Washington believed this and supported the Second Amendment, there’s simply no evidence of when or where he said that. It began circulating in a pamphlet that attributed it to him with no specific citation. 

“It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty upon the supposition he may abuse.”

This was not said or written by Washington. It’s more likely to have come from British politician Oliver Cromwell. 

“The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments.”

This quote is actually from a Republican senator from Idaho. Not our first president. It also originated over a century after Washington’s death. 

“When government takes away citizens’ right to bear arms it becomes citizens’ duty to take away government’s right to govern.”

A fiery sentiment, but there’s no evidence it was Washington’s. 

“It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.”

This seems to be a misquotation of an unsubstantiated account of Washington saying “It is impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being.” But neither quote stems from Washington’s own writings. 

“Government is not reason,it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”

No one knows where it came from, but it wasn’t George Washington. 

“Continued deficit spending must ultimately endanger all governments.”

George Washington…budget dude? Not quite. There’s no proof he ever said or wrote this though it makes a great bumper sticker. 

“Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. Bring me the Book.”

There’s no evidence of Washington saying this on his deathbed or otherwise. 

“We lost every battle of the war but the two that counted.”

A rousing sentiment that might make a great line in Hamilton, but it’s not found in any of Washington’s records. 

“Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man.”

What Washington actually said on the issue was, “ know of no pursuit in which more zeal & important service can be rendered to any Country than by improving its agriculture.”

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member