April 15, 2014

“Now he belongs to the ages” – or maybe to the angels…


Three famous quotations are linked to the assassination and death of President Abraham Lincoln.

Many history and quotation books say that after John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln on April 14, 1865 at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. he shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!”

That Latin phrase — which means “Thus always to tyrants!” — was and still is the official state motto of Virginia, one of the Confederate states during the Civil War.

According to many accounts, Booth also shouted “The South is avenged!” after he shot Lincoln.

Many history and quotation books also say that when Lincoln died the next morning, on April 15, 1865, his friend and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton said to the small gathering of people at Lincoln’s bedside: “Now he belongs to the ages.”

However, it’s not actually clear whether these traditionally-cited quotes by Booth and Stanton are accurate. There are different “earwitness” accounts of what they said.

In his painstakingly-researched book We Saw Lincoln Shot, author Timothy Good determined that most witnesses recalled hearing Booth shout “Sic semper tyrannis!” But others — including Booth himself — claimed that he only yelled “Sic semper!” Some didn’t recall hearing Booth shout anything in Latin.

What Booth shouted in English is also muddied by varying recollections. Some witnesses said he shouted “The South is avenged!” Others thought they heard him say “Revenge for the South!” or “The South shall be free!” Two said Booth yelled “I have done it!”

Similarly, there are differing accounts of the words Edwin Stanton spoke when Lincoln died.

The traditional version of Edwin M. Stanton’s quote —  “Now he belongs to the ages.” — were the words remembered by Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay, who was near Lincoln’s deathbed on April 15, 1865.

That quote was included in a book Hay wrote about Lincoln with John G. Nicolay in 1890 and popularized by Ida M. Tarbell’s widely-read biography of Lincoln, published in 1900. 

Dr. Charles Sabin Taft, one of Lincoln’s attending physicians, wrote his own account of the President’s death for Century Magazine in 1883. According to Taft, Stanton said “He now belongs to the Ages.”

The Hay and Taft versions vary only in the order of Stanton’s words.

However, as explained in a fascinating article by Adam Gopnik in the May 28, 2007 issue of The New Yorker, there’s another account that uses the word “angels” instead of “ages,” giving the quote a significantly different meaning.

On the night Lincoln was shot, he was taken to a room in Peterson’s boarding house (sometimes spelled Petersen’s). That evening, Edwin Stanton had witnesses to the shooting brought there to report what they had seen.

A Civil War veteran named James Tanner, who lived nearby and could write shorthand, was brought in to record what the witnesses said.

Tanner was also present on the morning of April 15, 1865, when Lincoln died. He didn’t write down Stanton’s words that morning. But he did later. And, according to Tanner, what Stanton said was: “Now he belongs to the angels.”

This has created a debate among historians. Most believe the traditional “ages” version is probably correct. But some, such as James L. Swanson, author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, side with “the angels.” 

In his New Yorker article, Adam Gopnik concluded:

“The past is so often unknowable not because it is befogged now but because it was befogged then, too, back when it was still the present. If we had been there listening, we still might not have been able to determine exactly what Stanton said. All we know for sure is that everyone was weeping, and the room was full.”

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Further reading about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln…

April 11, 2014

“I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was…”


Two famous quotes by President Harry S. Truman are linked to the date April 11.

The first is something Truman said about a historic announcement he made on April 11, 1951.

On that date, Truman announced his decision to fire General Douglas MacArthur, the “Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers” in Korea, for disagreeing with his policy of limiting the expansion of the Korean War.

It was the culmination of a dispute that started the previous year.

In November and December of 1950, Mao Tse-tung (a.k.a. Mao Zedong), the new leader of the Communist People’s Republic of China, sent hundreds of thousands of Red Chinese troops to fight alongside North Koreans against American and South Korean forces.

MacArthur wanted to respond by attacking China, possibly with nuclear weapons.

Truman firmly squelched that idea.

But MacArthur, who’d enjoyed great popularity with the public since World War II and had a huge ego, decided to try to play a game of political chicken with Truman.

In late March, he wrote a letter to Republican Congressman Joseph W. Martin in which he clearly criticized the President’s policy and slyly played the Red scare card.

His letter suggested that China’s intervention in Korea should be met with “maximum counterforce” and said, in an obvious reference to Truman: “It seems strangely difficult for some to realize that here in Asia is where the Communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest.”

As MacArthur expected, Martin made the letter public.

Truman was furious. And, after a series of discussions with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he decided to relieve MacArthur of his command.

On the night of April 11, 1951, Truman officially announced his firing of MacArthur in a special broadcast to the American people.

Truman’s famous quote about that decision came to light years later, in 1974, with the publication of the best-selling book Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman.

The book, by Merle Miller, was based on taped-recorded interviews made with Truman in the 1960s.

In one chapter, Miller provided Truman’s response when asked why he decided to fire General MacArthur.

Truman’s salty answer soon became a famous quote

“I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President…I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the laws for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”

Of course, there’s another, even better-known quote that’s associated with Truman’s firing of MacArthur.

On April 19, 1951, eight days after he was relieved of duty, MacArthur made a high-profile “farewell address” to a joint meeting of Congress. That speech included the familiar line: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

There’s also a second Truman quotation that’s linked to the date April 11th, but it’s not about MacArthur. It’s Truman’s humorous, oft-cited explanation of the difference between a politician and a statesman.

On April 11, 1958, speaking to the Reciprocity Club in Washington, D.C., the retired president said:

“A statesman is a politician who’s been dead ten or fifteen years.”

To read the background on that famous quotation, see this previous post on This Day in Quotes.

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Comments? Questions? Corrections? Post them on the Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Further reading about President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur

April 07, 2014

The origins of the “falling domino principle” and “The Domino Effect”…


Contrary to what many sites on the Internet say, President Dwight D. Eisenhower did not coin the famous Cold War term “the Domino Effect.” 

He did use the phrase “falling domino principle” in a famous press conference on April 7, 1954.

Journalists at the time dubbed this “The Domino Theory,” which later came to be referred to as “the Domino Effect.”

The political concept encapsulated by those terms — the idea that if one country fell to the control of Communists, then nearby countries could follow — was a major foundation of America’s foreign policy during the Cold War years, which lasted from 1947 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

This concern was initially raised by President Truman’s Undersecretary of State, Dean Acheson.

In 1947, the government of Greece faced threats from Communist insurgents and Turkey seemed to be falling under the sway of the Soviet Union. Acheson warned in various public statements that, if the “Reds” took over in Greece and Turkey, Communism would likely spread south to Iran and as far east as India.

To counter this threat, President Truman asked Congress to approve $400 million in military and economic assistance for Greece and Turkey and proposed an anti-Communist policy eventually referred to as “The Truman Doctrine.” 

“It must be the policy of the United States,” Truman explained in a high-profile speech to Congress, “to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”

President Eisenhower, Truman’s successor, agreed with the Truman Doctrine’s goal of containing the spread of Communism. And, early  in his first term in office, he was forced to consider the need to apply that doctrine to Southeast Asia.

By 1954, France was on the verge of losing control of its colony Indochina (later called Vietnam) to Communist insurgents led by Ho Chi Minh. Eisenhower and his administration worried that if Indochina fell to Communist control, other Southeast Asian countries would follow.

During a White House press conference on April 7, 1954, reporter Robert Richards of the Copley Press asked Eisenhower: “Mr. President, would you mind commenting on the strategic importance of Indochina for the free world? I think there has been, across the country, some lack of understanding on just what it means to us.”

Eisenhower famously responded:

“You have, of course, both the specific and the general when you talk about such things. First of all, you have the specific value of a locality in its production of materials that the world needs.

Then you have the possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world.

Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call ‘the falling domino principle.’ You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.”

Eisenhower said this disintegration would lead to the “loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following.”

In many news stories, reporters referred to Eisenhower’s falling domino principle as “the Domino Theory” or as “the Domino Effect.” The latter was a term that journalists Joseph and Stewart Alsop used in their popular syndicated newspaper column and claimed to have coined.

A month after Eisenhower made his famous remarks in 1954, Vietminh forces under General Vo Nguyen Giap defeated French troops at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

France soon ceded control of its former colony. And, under an agreement hammered out in Geneva, Indochina was partitioned into Communist-controlled North Vietnam and non-Communist South Vietnam.

In the following years, Eisenhower provided economic assistance and weapons to the fledgling South Vietnamese government and sent in a small number of American military advisors.

During the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy significantly expanded U.S. economic and military assistance to South Vietnam and increased the number of military advisors there to more than 16,000.

These decisions by Eisenhower and Kennedy set in motion a political and military domino effect that ultimately led to the Vietnam War.

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Related reading…

April 06, 2014

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”


On today’s date in 1968, director Stanley Kubrick’s trippy science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey was released to movie theaters nationwide in the United States.

The film, based on a novel and an earlier short story by Arthur C. Clarke, had its initial premiere in Washington, D.C. on April 2nd, followed by local premieres in New York and Los Angeles.

On April 6, 1968, with the film’s general release, movie audiences throughout the country first heard several memorable lines in the film that that are now commonly cited as famous movie quotes.

One is spoken by astronaut David Bowman (actor Kier Dullea), to HAL, the treacherous, sentient HAL 9000 space ship computer. (HAL is short for “the H-euristically programmed AL-gorithmic computer.”)

Toward the end of the movie, as HAL begins killing off the ship’s crew, Bowman takes a small space pod outside to retrieve the body of fellow astronaut Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood).

As Bowman returns to the ship, he utters the oft-quoted and oft-spoofed line:

       “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”

HAL responds chillingly:

       “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Bowman manages to get back into the ship and heads to the room that houses HAL’s “brain,” determined to shut it down.

During the shutdown process, HAL senses what’s happening and says the famous lines:

       “Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it.”

As HAL’s mind goes, he begins singing the old song “Daisy Bell,” which he was taught by his programmers:

       “Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer do.
        I’m half crazy, all for the love of you.”

After HAL’s mind is fully gone, the audiences’ minds get blown by the final sequences of the movie, which show Bowman aging, dying, and then being reborn as a shining “space baby.”

What does it all mean?

I’m sorry, folks, I’m afraid I can’t tell you that…

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Further reading and viewing:

March 25, 2014

The story behind the famous movie misquote: “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”


On March 25, 1932, the classic film Tarzan the Ape Man, starring former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, premiered in New York City.

The famous misquote associated with this movie is “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”

Weissmuller didn’t actually say the line in that film or any of the other Tarzan movies he starred in between 1932 and 1948.

Nor does the line “Me Tarzan, you Jane” appear in any of the original Tarzan stories or books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

But Weissmuller did say it, jokingly, in an interview published in the June 1932 issue of Photoplay magazine.

He told the Photoplay reporter:

     “I didn’t have to act in Tarzan, the Ape Man — just said, ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane.’”

After that, his quip became an oft-used comic catchphrase that many people mistakenly assume came from one of Weissmuller’s Tarzan movies.

Another Hollywood star who used the line for humorous effect was Weissmuller’s second wife, the exotic Mexican dancer and actress Lupe Velez, the “Mexican Spitfire.

Velez was married to Weissmuller for five tempestuous years in the 1930s, at the height of his fame and hers. Their fights were legendary.

After their divorce, Velez joked that she spoke English poorly because “I was married to a guy who can only say, ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane.’”

When Weissmuller died in 1984, the Associated Press obituary noted that a reporter once asked him to explain his movie success, given his lack of acting skills.

Weissmuller responded, this time seriously: “How can a guy climb trees, say ‘Me, Tarzan, you, Jane,’ and make a million? The public forgives my acting because they know I was an athlete. They know I wasn’t make-believe.”

Of course, if you’re a true Tarzan fan, you probably know that Weissmuller’s “Me Tarzan, you Jane” quip is a take-off on a humorous scene in his film Tarzan the Ape Man.

In that scene, Tarzan learns the words me, you, Jane and Tarzan, though he doesn’t put them together in the famous formulation.

After Tarzan saves Jane (actress Maureen O’Sullivan) from a leopard, she tries to communicate with him.

It almost plays like an Abbott and Costello comedy bit.

JANE: “Thank you for protecting me.”

TARZAN: “Me?”

JANE: “I said, thank you for protecting me.”

TARZAN: (Pointing at her.) “Me?”

JANE: “No. I’m only ‘Me’ for me.”

TARZAN: (Pointing at Jane again.) “Me.”

JANE: “No. To you, I’m ‘You.’”

TARZAN: (Pointing at himself.) “You.”

JANE: “No. I’m Jane Parker. Understand? Jane. Jane.”

TARZAN: (Pointing at her.) “Jane. Jane. Jane.”

JANE: “Yes, Jane! (She points at him.) And, you? (She points at herself again.) Jane.”

TARZAN: (Pointing at her) “Jane.”

JANE: “And you? (Pointing at him.) You?”

TARZAN: (Jabbing himself in the chest.) “Tarzan! Tarzan!”

JANE: “Tarzan!”

TARZAN: (Pointing at her and them himself.) “Jane. Tarzan.”

At this point, Weissmuller begins repeatedly poking her chest, then his own, saying “Jane. Tarzan. Jane. Tarzan.” — faster and faster — until O’Sullivan finally begs him to stop.

Of course, in the original Tarzan stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan spoke a number of languages fluently — including grammatically correct English.

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Related reading…

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