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Friday, June 24, 2011

Great, Good, Lincoln, Tocqueville, and Huntsman

Some of our "Myths & Misinformation" boxes look at spurious quotations. There is a new entry on the list. reports:
Jon Huntsman wrongly paraphrased Abraham Lincoln as saying: "[W]e are a great country because we are a good country." Lincoln assuredly never said that.
The expression is similar to a common political bromide that Ronald Reagan and others have attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville. But de Tocqueville didn't write those words, either.
Former Utah Gov. Huntsman made the slip-up at the announcement of his presidential candidacy in Liberty Park, N.J.
Huntsman, June 21: Our political debates today are corrosive and not reflective of the belief that Abe Lincoln espoused back in his day, that we are a great country because we are a good country.
The words appear nowhere in the collected writings of Lincoln. According to James M. Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln collection at the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Lincoln only wrote the phrase "great country" three times, and never close to the way Huntsman said.
Reagan claimed that the quote appeared in Alexis de Tocqueville's seminal work, "Democracy in America," and was "one line in that that, I guess, has been quoted more than any author has ever had a line quoted." But Reagan was also wrong. The 19th century French historian never wrote those words, either in "Democracy in America" or any of his other works. That was established as long ago as 1995 by the conservative Weekly Standard, which reported that Bill Clinton and Pat Buchanan were also fond of using the spurious de Tocqueville quote.