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The latest gun advocacy rhetoric I've seen includes this quote, attributed to George Washington:

When any nation mistrusts its citizens with guns it is sending a clear message. It no longer trusts its citizens because such a government has evil plans.

As seen on Facebook

Did George Washington really say this? I can find plenty of people citing him with this quotation, but nothing that looks like a legitimate source (mostly personal blogs and opinion pieces). It doesn't really sound like the phrasing I would expect him to use.

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22  
Sounds like the "internet is full of stupid and wrong quotes" - Thomas Jefferson –  Wertilq Apr 24 '13 at 16:56
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@Wertilq I believe that's the corollary of "only fact-check if you disagree with the premise" - Albert Einstein –  Beofett Apr 24 '13 at 16:59
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@Wertilq Given his rather prominent status U.S. history, I would expect that there would be a fair body of documented quotations available on public record. Granted, its always possible that the quote originated from some authentic record only available from a private source, but if that were the case, the chances of the quote gaining meme status would be pretty slim. –  Beofett Apr 24 '13 at 17:21
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He couldn't have said that. George Washington would never put confuse "its" with "it's". –  RandomDuck.NET Apr 25 '13 at 3:16
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@RandomDuck.NET Right, and he would never have used a modern word choice like "sending a clear message". –  Mike Dunlavey Apr 25 '13 at 13:42

1 Answer 1

up vote 47 down vote accepted

The evidence clearly suggests current-day pamphleteer Joe Spenner is the author of this quotation, not George Washington.


Author of the quotation

The author of the quote appears to be someone named Joe Spenner who authored a pamphlet in which there is an introduction by Spenner (note the absence of quote marks - he isn't quoting) containing the phrase in question, below this a horizontal dividing line, below the line are a series of quotations (in quote marks) attributed to George Washington. It seems clear that the quotation in question is part of Spenner's introductory remarks and Spenner is the original author.

A Facebook comment from an Eric Gustafson identified this source


Author of the image

The author of the image isn't sure if it's a Washington quote and doesn't care:

enter image description here

I added the rectangle to highlight the author's view of the reliability of the attribution. Other than my added rectangle, this is a straight clip from the facebook page from which the image in the question originated.


Washington's archive

The phrase "evil plans" does not appear in George Washington's written works 1745-1799 as collected by John C Fitzpatrick

The preservation of his papers was a subject never far from the mind of George Washington. In fact, his deathbed instructions to his secretary Tobias Lear in December 1799, to "arrange and record all my late military letters and papers . . . and other letters," were only the continuation of a practice that Washington had begun as a young man when he began saving his incoming letters as well as copies of most of his outgoing correspondence. A half-century of farm management, land speculation, business enterprise, and public service eventually came to be represented in the mass of written material that comprise his public and private papers, some 135,000 surviving documents.

Comprised of more than 17,400 letters and documents in thirty-seven volumes (plus a two-volume index), Fitzpatrick's Writings was a monumental achievement by any standard. His experience in the Library of Congress, which owns the single largest collection of Washington manuscripts (more than 60,000 documents) ...

So if he did say it (or write it), it wasn't in what were regarded as his most important writings.


Earliest occurrence of key words

Searching Google ngrams for "a government has evil plans" finds nothing between 1732 and 1799. (it can find other phrases in that period so it's not due to a complete lack of data in that period)

The first occurrence of "evil plans" in Google's collection of 40 million books is in 1810 - long after Washington was laid to rest.


Conclusion:

The attribution to Washington is most likely an error.

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2  
I stand corrected, it was possible to find like most of the juicy stuff he said apparently. Great answer as usually, RedGrittyBrick, especially to history related topics. Your answers have crowned you as my favorite Skeptics answerist. –  Wertilq Apr 24 '13 at 17:52
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I think the last paragraph should be more prominent and moved the the beginning of the answer, as it shows the real author of the quotation, and even why it was connected with George Washington. –  Suma Apr 25 '13 at 10:05
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@Suma: I changed my mind, I think you are right. –  RedGrittyBrick Apr 25 '13 at 10:25
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Someone making such basic grammar mistakes shouldn’t be allowed to participate in political discussions anyway. ;-) –  Konrad Rudolph Apr 25 '13 at 14:53
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@KonradRudolph someone who admits to being okay with blatantly lying shouldn't be allowed to participate in political discussions. Of course, that would leave very few people left to participate in political discussions. –  Avi Apr 26 '13 at 3:24

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