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Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Festival of Fake Tocqueville!

Politicians are fond of this passage:
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers—and it was not there… in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there… in her rich mines and her vast world commerce—and it was not there… in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution—and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.
They usually attribute it to Alexis deTocqueville.  But as this blog has noted a number of times, Tocqueville never wrote anything of the kind.

In his 1940 farewell speech (Congressional Record, September 11, 1940, 11902.) , Senator Henry Ashurst (D-Arizona) attributed the first several lines of that passage to Tocqueville, then offered the last line as his own summation. Barry Popik has pointed to even earlier sources -- but not Tocqueville.

In recent days, Independence Day has inspired a number of public figures to use the fake Tocqueville quotation, including: