Politics

A Letter To Rand Paul: Stop Using Fake Founding Fathers Quotes

Paul has once again written a book littered with easy-to-check historical inaccuracies.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Dear Sen. Rand Paul,

Four months ago, we brought to your attention that your first two books contained several quotations incorrectly attributed to our Founding Fathers. In The Tea Party Goes to Washington, you write eloquently of the need to limit government, quoting Thomas Jefferson as saying, “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.” But Jefferson never said this. In Government Bullies (an e-book best-seller!), you argue against tyranny and oppression, quoting James Madison as saying, “If tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” There’s no evidence Madison ever said or wrote this.

It’s not just your books. Speaking in Greenville, South Carolina earlier this year, we caught you using a fake Patrick Henry quotation. You used it in a speech on the Senate floor, too. And it’s not just the founders. You repeatedly misquoted Abraham Lincoln this year, as well.

Just this week you released a new book, Our Presidents & Their Prayers: Proclamations of Faith by America’s Leaders, with co-author James Robison, who “compiled and edited” the text. It too is full of fake quotations.

If you google the language of the “National Prayer of Peace,” which you attribute to Thomas Jefferson, the first result is a page from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation debunking the quotation.

When we called Harold Holzer — who’s written 50 books on Abraham Lincoln and is one of the country’s foremost Lincoln scholars — to ask about a Lincoln quotation in your book, he replied, “Oh, not this again.”

You wrote that Lincoln said, “I know there is a God, and that He hates the injustice of slavery. I see the storm coming, and I know that His hand is in it. If He has a place and a work for me, and I think He has, I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. I know I am right, because I know that liberty is right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God.”

Holzer was clear.

“I hope Sen. Paul can find another Lincoln prayer to console him because Lincoln never uttered anything like this,” Holzer said. “It’s totally apocryphal. ‘Do unto others’ was more in Lincoln’s line. Not this.”

The quotation that leads off your chapter on George Washington — “let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy Son, Jesus Christ” — is also fake. The source comes from a prayer book, The Daily Sacrifice, commonly attributed to Washington by evangelicals and conservative politicians, despite the fact that it’s been routinely discredited by scholars.

For instance, John Fea, who chairs the History Department at Messiah College, told the Carroll County Times in 2014 it was “far too pious for Washington,” noting Washington only referenced Jesus Christ twice in all of his writing. The University of Virginia, where the papers of George Washington are stored, and the Smithsonian Institution both concluded the handwriting of the prayer was not Washington’s. And the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington also told us that that the prayer book was in no way connected to our nation’s first president.

A quick google search would have shown the prayer book to be fake, and traced back to an auction of a book found by Washington’s descendant Lawrence Washington in 1891.

Edward G. Lengel, professor and director of the Washington Papers at the University of Virginia, said so too.

These quotations are “not actually from George Washington. It is taken from a ‘prayer book’ attributed to Washington that first appeared in 1891 and is generally regarded by scholars (including myself) as a forgery. There is no evidence that Washington had a prayer book, or that he penned this one — the handwriting in the original is clearly not his.”

Similarly, Lengel notes the story of Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge — something you wrote “appears consistent with what we know of Washington’s faith” — also “is apocryphal.”

Wrote Lengal to us, “The story contradicts itself and there’s no evidence for it, making it pretty clearly a piece of early nineteenth-century hokum (stories like this — and the cherry tree — were very popular in that era and nobody checked to see if they were true or not).”

You quote “Washington’s Prayer Journal” on multiple occasions in your Washington chapter.

This is where we stopped checking. You did a chapter on every president and we don’t have the time to check them all.

All the best,

Andrew Kaczynski and Megan Apper
Reporter/Researchers, BuzzFeed News

The Paul campaign did not return a request for comment.

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