I Didn’t Know Historians Have Senses of Humor

Via Rawstory I saw a bit of writing on the political jeopardy to Trump’s presidency and how, in the author’s view, this jeopardy is greater even than what Nixon faced in the time period before impeachment proceedings began. I started reading and in the first full paragraph came upon one of the great historical jokes of all time:

Since George Washington Americans have taken pride in electing honest presidents. Whether the chief executive is rated by historians as great, average, or failure, there has been general agreement that honest men have occupied the White House.

I had to find the History News Network site to examine the quote at its source, it was so unbelievable. Slowly, slowly it dawned on me that in this piece of serious writing, this line must have been slipped in by an editor as a joke. I mean, Holy Historical Humor, Batman, could any student of history ever actually believe this?




  1. cartomancer says

    This sort of humour has an ancient pedigree among historians. Tacitus begins his Annals with “Urbem Romam a principio reges habuere”, which is often translated as something like “Rome, at the beginning, was ruled by kings” (as the version in the Perseus online archive has it).

    Which would be an uncontroversial statement, but “a principio” is not “in the beginning”, it’s “from the beginning” – “Rome had kings from the beginning”. The meaning of which is that, although it went through a period of Republican government between the end of the Monarchy and the creation of the Principate, it has actually had kings all along (it just hasn’t been willing to admit it).

    So, in conclusion, no, no we do not have senses of humour.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    If historians have agreed that “honest men have occupied the White House”, they must have had time machines that go forward as well as backward, so that they could imply “as compared to that guy inaugurated in 2017”.

  3. springa73 says

    Sure, historians have senses of humor. They’re just not supposed to show them in public.

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