“O Liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!”

In 1781, a young French woman named Marie-Jeanne Philippon married wealthy businessman Jean-Marie Roland, thus becoming known as Madame Roland. Madame Roland and her husband were early supporters of the democratic goals of the French Revolution.  They became active leaders of the progressive but moderate pro-democracy party called the Girondists. The Girondists supported changing France’s … Read more

As Maine goes, so goes: (a) the nation (b) Vermont . . .

In the November 1936 presidential election, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was reelected for a second term in a landslide victory over his Republican opponent, Kansas Governor Alf Landon. Roosevelt received more than 60% of the vote and won in all but two states – Maine and Vermont. On November 4, 1936, the day after the … Read more

“Facts are stubborn things…”

In the years leading up to the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775, the rebel-rousing Sons of Liberty used an engraving of what they called “The Boston Massacre” to encourage anti-British sentiments.   The engraving, done by Paul Revere, shows a line of British soldiers coldly firing their bayoneted muskets into a crowd of … Read more

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

On July 16, 1964, at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater uttered his most remembered quotation in his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” he said. “And…moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” Those words quickly became both famous … Read more

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

The quote “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is often mistakenly attributed to the Irish lawyer and politician John Philpot Curran and frequently to Thomas Jefferson. In fact, Curran’s line was somewhat different. What he actually said, in a speech in Dublin on July 10, 1790, was:        “The condition upon which God … Read more

“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

In many books of quotations and on thousands of websites H.L. Mencken is credited with the famous quote “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Most sources fail to mention that this “quote” by “The Sage of Baltimore” is actually the traditional paraphrase of what Mencken actually wrote — not … Read more

The story behind the phrase “The Year of Living Dangerously”

Google has a cool tool for researchers of words and phrases (including quotations) called the Ngram Viewer. It graphs the occurrence of a word or phrase in books published between the years 1500 and 2008. If you do an Ngram search for the phrase “the year of living dangerously,” you’ll see a huge, continuing spike … Read more

“Why are you not here?” – Thoreau’s famous (apocryphal) question to Emerson…

Fake quotes are sometimes harder to identify and debunk than “fake news,” especially when they are cited by hundreds of books and thousands of websites. A good example is the question Henry David Thoreau supposedly asked his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson in July 1846 when Thoreau was jailed overnight in Concord, Massachusetts for refusing to … Read more

President Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech

One of the famous quotations linked to the date June 26th is a line President John F. Kennedy spoke in German on June 26, 1963: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Kennedy used the line twice that day in a historic speech in West Berlin, which was then separated from Communist-controlled East Berlin by the Berlin Wall. … Read more

The origin of the proverbial political “smoke-filled room”

Although smoking is either banned or not tolerated in most meetings today, the idea of a meeting of power brokers making deals behind closed doors “in a smoke-filled room” is still a well-known political image and metaphor. The now-idiomatic “smoke-filled room” was embedded in our language by an Associated Press article filed on June 12, … Read more