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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fake Tocqueville Rides Again

In  Defying the Odds, we discuss the conservative media.

Breitbart has an article attacking a papal adviser.  At one point, it quotes Tocqueville.
And in one of the most famous passages of that same work, the Frenchman described what he believed to be the source of America’s “greatness” (his term).
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.
This quotation is fake.  As I have been pointing out for 22 years, Tocqueville never wrote any such thing.  Many politicians -- including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Ben Carson -- have used the fake quotation. Hillary Clinton alluded to it in her acceptance speech.

It  apparently started many years ago. In his 1940 farewell speech (Congressional Record, September 11, 1940, 11902.) , Senator Henry Ashurst (D-Arizona) attributed the first several lines of that passage to Tocqueville, then offered the last line as his own summation. Barry Popik has pointed to even earlier sources -- but not Tocqueville.  Sherwood Eddy used it in a 1941 book on the American dream, and Eisenhower quoted it (without attribution to Tocqueville) in 1952 speech.

Again, Tocqueville did not write it.