FRC Uses Fake Quote to Promote Values Voters Summit


The Family Research Council is holding its annual Values Voters Summit in a couple weeks and when people sign up to attend the event they are sent an email from Tony Perkins. But as my friend Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State points out, most of that email consists of this pretty famous fake quote from James Madison:

Madison quote

But Madison never said this. In fact, he never said anything remotely like it. It has never been found anywhere in Madison’s speeches or writings and even David Barton admitted almost 20 years ago that it did not exist. In fact, this is an embellishment of the typical version of this fake quote that is found on hundreds of websites. Rob writes:

The AU press release notes that in 1993, the curators of the Madison Papers at the University of Virginia were asked if they could verify this quote. They could not.

“We did not find anything in our files remotely like the sentiment expressed in the extract you sent us,” curators John Stagg and David Mattern wrote. “In addition, the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison’s views on religion and government, views which he expressed time and time again in public and in private.”

I remember this incident well because I played a role (a modest one to be sure) in the final debunking of the quote that occurred later. The heavy lifting was done by Robert S. Alley, a professor of humanities at the University of Richmond. Alley, who died in 2006, was a legitimate Madison scholar and author of the excellent tome James Madison on Religious Liberty.

Bob was also an ally of Americans United who served on our Board of Trustees for several years. He was an erudite and engaging man, and I had the good fortune of being able to turn to him whenever I had a question about church-state history. In the early 1990s, Bob and I kept seeing the Madison Ten Commandments quote – but it was never sourced. That made us suspicious.

Bob always had a lot of irons in the fire, but I prodded him to take on the project of definitively debunking the quote. He jumped right in and published his findings in a paper titled “Public Education and the Public Good” in the William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Summer 1995.

“Proving that a quotation does not exist is a daunting task,” Alley wrote. “If you cannot find it in any extant manuscripts or collections of Madison’s works, just how does one prove it will not turn up in someone’s attic tomorrow? Of course you cannot. That is why the Madison editors were careful in how they phrased their response. But, after all, it is incumbent solely upon the perpetrators of myth to prove it by at least one citation. This they cannot do. Their style is not revisionism, it is anti-historical.”

Quite right. That these quotes continue to circulate sometimes decades after they’ve been debunked is rather appalling.

Comments

  1. raven says

    It is perfectly consistent with their religion to use a Fake quote.

    Lying is one of the three main sacraments of the fundies. And it is a “value”. It’s just that most of us don’t value…lying.

  2. Doug Little says

    That these quotes continue to circulate sometimes decades after they’ve been debunked is rather appalling

    But not surprising.

  3. zero6ix says

    You can’t not disprove that Madison didn’t not say it! Go back to your baby sacrifice, heathens!

  4. colnago80 says

    Considering the fact that Madison was a severe critic of organized religion in general and Christianity in particular, it would be most surprising if he said any such thing.

  5. says

    The original Madison quotation from which this is derived is found in the Federalist Papers (XXXIX):

    The first question that offers itself is, whether the general form and aspect of the government be strictly republican? It is evident that no other form would be reconcileable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the revolution; or with that honourable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self government. If the plan of the convention, therefore, be found to depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as no longer defensible.

    It will be noted that the phrase “the capacity of mankind for self government” has here been wrested from its original collective meaning (the ability of people to govern themselves) to a peculiar meaning (the ability of an individual to govern himself).

  6. sigurd jorsalfar says

    As the great Oscar Wilde once said “Ninety-nine percent of all emailed quotes are fake”. This is as true now as it was when he first said it back in 1963.

  7. says

    In the 1950s Dean Clarence Manion started expounding Madison’s phrase from the Federalist Papers as a call for individual self-government. This example is from 1950:

    The Founding Fathers of the American Republic remembered this when they wrote our Declaration of Independence, and The First American state and Federal Constitution. As soon as these documents had been promulgated, one of the most erudite of the Founding Fathers, James Madison, said that ‘we have staked the whole future of our American Political Institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self government’. He meant the Constitutional freedom of the American citizen will last just so long and only so long as that citizen keeps the capacity to govern himself according to the moral and legal standards of personal conduct that run through the Christian era all the way back to the time of Moses. [Cleveland Bar Association Journal, 1950, page 21]

    Although Dean Manion quoted Madison correctly in the published version of The Key to Peace (though expounding this misinterpretation), in his speeches on the road he (mis-)quoted him in a manner resembling that of the fake quotation.

    The first known appearance of the fake quotation came In 1958 when it appeared in the calendar of Spiritual Mobilization as:

    We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government: upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.

    Most of the phrases that make up the quotation had previously appeared in Dean Manion’s expansions or interpretations of the Madison phrase. Frederick Nymeyer used the quotation as column-filler on page 31 of the January 1958 issue of Progressive Calvinism: Neighborly Love and Ricardo’s Law of Association. Later uses include p. 541 of The Institutes of Biblical Law (Rousas John Rushdoony, 1973); p. 51 of Listen America! (Jerry Falwell, 1980), and p. 411 of America’s God and Country (William J. Federer, 1994).

  8. exdrone says

    raven @1:

    It is perfectly consistent with their religion to use a Fake quote.

    Especially considering that the bible is entirely made up of plagiarized verses, borrowed myths, fabricated stories and altered histories.

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