Just the other day I came across this quote I rather liked. It was posted as a neat little piece on facebook by some one of my friends. It struck me as right on target for the larger discussion resonating around the country, in these days of The Wall Street Occupation.
I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.
The words, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, appeared alongside one of my favorite portraits of the man and made a nice little poster. I thought to share it, that it might serve as a nice rebuttal to the out there argument we've heard from some, that the protesters protesting the financial industry were somehow un-American.
But just before I shared the quote, inasmuch as I'd never heard it before, I thought I might do well to look for a more specific sourcing. I did not want to find myself being criticized for a lack of due diligence. Well, it was in this search that I came across this same quote as the subject of an article on snopes.com.
The article observes "One of the 'Rules of Misquotation'... is that axiom that 'Famous dead people make excellent commentators on current events'" and "Given the fear and uncertainty engendered by the current economic situation, and the disgruntlement expressed by many Americans... it was only a matter of time until someone trotted out a quotation (apocryphal or otherwise) from a respected, long-dead figure..."
As it turns out, this particular quote fits into the apocryphal category. It is not exactly a facebook fabrication, mind you, but neither can the words be traced back to the lips of our third president. No contemporary documentation ties these words together with Jefferson saying them. Multiple sources are claimed in a range of different citations. According to the Jefferson Encyclopedia, the quote’s first appearance was in 1937 in a United States Senate committee. (And we all know what diligent and meticulous scholars congressional aides can be.)
That little fact struck me as interesting though, the 1937 date, because if memory serves that was a time for 'fear, uncertainty, and disgruntlement' with our financial sector as well. It was a period of popular and political frustration with a dauntingly slow recovery as we clawed our way out of the grips of The Great Depression. (Who was it said that if history doesn't repeat itself, "it does at least rhyme"?) I suppose back in the day some senate staffer probably concocted the quote, cobbled the Jefferson quote together from the kind of thing Jefferson was known to have said, and what he might have said —to serve the current debate with what he could or should have said.
While the full quote in question cannot be traced to Jefferson. The snopes article and several others I found point to things akin that he did indeed say or write in his day, comments that are in fact matters of historical record. Jefferson's "disdain and mistrust of banking institutions" was and is no fabrication. His fate as a bereft debtor at the end of his life is a known as well. I suppose this serves as an example of what we argue over as our "mytho-history" —a story of some kind of truth, but lacking fact.
I wonder just now if this isn't the scene of some cousin concept to the persona politics that gets my goat sometimes these days: The way the exact same words, that on the lips of Ronald Reagan, for example, would elicit the religious awe of the devoted, can be dismissed, resented or worse —if they come from... some other source let's say.
Should who said it really matter so much more to us than what's been said? Should we really need to invoke the authority of the Late Greats to get what are really our own thoughts and beliefs off our chests? To have them heard ? I make no excuse for sloppy history, but as we bring our history around to our current day discourse maybe we should be a little less inclined to quotation, less interested in the specifics of citation and more open to each other's broader inspiration.
We should be willing to grant and make our own guesses at wisdom.
Actually, come to think of it, I think the poet said it best:
"Half of the people can be part right all of the time,
Some of the people can be all right part of the time,
But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time."
I think Abraham Lincoln said that
“I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours”
I said that!
—Bob Dylan, 'Talkin' World War III Blues'