The following is a list of quotations misattributed to George Washington that have been sent to the Mount Vernon library in recent years. This list will continue to grow as research staff at Mount Vernon become aware of other misattributed or false statements that have been cited as belonging to Washington. When available, an example of this misquote is provided in context, including published books, speeches and periodicals.

"I cannot tell a lie, Pa"

The history of "I cannot tell a lie, Pa" comes from the Parson Mason Weems biography of the young George Washington. In the fifth edition of The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington, the cherry tree anecdote was first included. 

Parson Weems’s Fable (Amon Carter Museum of American Art)

"A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government."

For example

This quote is partially accurate as the beginning section is taken from Washington's First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union. However, the quote is then manipulated into a differing context and the remaining text is inaccurate. Here is the actual text from Washington's speech:

"A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies."

"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."

For example

The library has yet to find an explanation for this misquote, locate another individual who said this statement, or uncover a similar quote of Washington's that was similar to this statement.

"It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible."

The Washington Family Bible

The quote is frequently misattributed to Washington, particularly in regards to his farewell address of 1796. The origin of the misquote is, perhaps, a mention of a similar statement in a biography of Washington first published in 1835. However, the quote that appeared in the biography has never been proven to have come from Washington. 

"When government takes away citizens' right to bear arms it becomes citizens' duty to take away government's right to govern."

The closest similar quote comes from Washington’s first State of the Union address, on Jan. 8, 1790.  He said, “A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies." The president was referring to a trained militia to defend the country, not necessarily armed citizens.  Washington, if anything, favored the arming of trained militias rather than wide swaths of the population.

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

The quote seems to originate from an online publication: The American Wisdom Series presents Pamphlet #230, "President George Washington's Thoughts on Firearms."  The author provides no citation for the quotations used.

"It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty upon the supposition he may abuse it."

The library verified that this quote was not from George Washington, though has not be able to trace its actual origins.

"Continued deficit spending must ultimately endanger all governments."

For example

The library has yet to find an explanation for this misquote or a similar quote of Washington's that was confused for this statement.

"Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. Bring me the Book."

For example

There is no evidence that Washington uttered these words while nearing his death.

"Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty, teeth and keystone under independence."

For Example

This quotation does not show up in any of Washington's writings, nor does any closely related quote.

"make the most of the Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere."

Hemp was grown at Mount Vernon, and Washington became interested in the crop by 1765 to serve as one of the staple crops to replace the cultivation of tobacco at Mount Vernon. However the text of this quote is inaccurate. The actual quotation with a similar reference reads:

"I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the St. foin seed, and that of the India Hemp. Make the most you can of both, by sowing them again in drills. . . Let the ground be well prepared, and the Seed (St. loin) be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown any where. "
George Washington to William Pearce, 24 February 1794

"It's wonderful what we can do if we're always doing."

This appears to be a misquote from a prominent Founder, though not George Washington. The actual quotation, which reads "It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing," is from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson on May 5, 1787.

"Decision making, like coffee, needs a cooling process"

The library has yet to find an explanation for this misquote or a similar quote of Washington's that was confused for this statement.

"Let none but Americans stand watch this night." or "Put none but Americans on watch this night."

No source can be located for this quotation.

"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive how the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."

For example

While this quote is not from George Washington, he did express his perspective regarding helping war veterans. For Washington's thoughts on the treatment of veterans, see for example, "George Washington to the President of Congress, 24 September 1776," and "George Washington to John Bannister, 2 April 1778."

"What is most important of this grand experiment, the United States? Not the election of the first president but the election of its second president. The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world."

Searches of all Washington papers and writings did not reveal this quote or any similar statements.

"The great thing about the American Christian is he would rather die on his feet than live on his knees."

There is no known quote from Washington in any of his writings or papers that reflected this sentiment.

"We lost every battle of the war but the two that counted." (In reference to Yorktown)

There is no evidence that Washington made this reference.

"The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments."

Example OneExample Two

The quote is actually from U.S. Senator William Edgar Borah, writing in The Reader's Digest, Vol. 8, Issue 2 (1929), 776.

"What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ."

This misquote is often attributed to Washington's speech to Delaware tribal leaders on May 12, 1779. However, it is both inaccurate in terms of words as well as meaning. The actual quote reads: "My ears hear with pleasure the other matters you mention. Congress will be glad to hear them too. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to tie the knot of friendship and union so fast, that nothing shall ever be able to loose it." The quote has its own historical significance and reflected Washington's eventual presidential policies aimed at encouraging cultural and religious assimilation of Native Americans.

"Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man."

The library has yet to find an explanation for this misquote or locate another individual who said this statement. This quote is found in agricultural publications as early as the 1830s.  A similar quote is expressed by George Washington in a letter written to John Sinclair, 20 July 1794: “I know of no pursuit in which more zeal & important service can be rendered to any Country than by improving its agriculture—its breed of useful animals—and other branches of a husbandman’s cares…”

“Decision making, like coffee, needs a cooling process.”

Searches of all Washington papers and writings did not reveal this quote or any similar statements.  The source of this quote may been inspired by the story of the "senatorial saucer" which is based on a supposed breakfast meeting between Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  The story received widespread circulation when it appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in January 1884.  It is unknown if a this or a similar conversation ever took place.

"An army of asses led by a lion is vastly superior to an army of lions led by an ass"

The rough quote "an army of sheep led by a lion is vastly superior to an army of lions led by a wolf" is apocryphally attributed to Alexander the Great.  The Washington quote seems to have developed at some point among the faculty or Corps of Cadets at the United States Military Academy at some point.

"We had quitters during the Revolution too...we called them 'Kentuckians.'"

This quote was actually stated by George Washington's ghost, in an episode of The Simpsons.

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