Washington and Religion
Despite several misattributed quotes, Washington was a private man when it came to his religion.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
The library verified that this quote was not from George Washington, though has not be able to trace its actual origins.
The library has yet to find an explanation for this misquote or a similar quote of Washington's that was confused for this statement.
There is no evidence that Washington uttered these words while nearing his death.
This quotation does not show up in any of Washington's writings, nor does any closely related quote.
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
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.
No source can be located for this quotation.
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.
There is no known quote from Washington in any of his writings or papers that reflected this sentiment.
There is no evidence that Washington made this reference.
The quote is actually from U.S. Senator William Edgar Borah, writing in The Reader's Digest, Vol. 8, Issue 2 (1929), 776.
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.
This quote was actually stated by George Washington's ghost, in an episode of The Simpsons.