Tag Archives: Hercules G. R. Robinson

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Voltaire? Spider-Man? Winston Churchill? Theodore Roosevelt? Franklin D. Roosevelt? Lord Melbourne? John Cumming? Hercules G. R. Robinson? Henry W. Haynes? Anonymous?

scales08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular saying about the relationship between ascendancy and obligation:

With great power comes great responsibility.

This expression has been attributed to two very different sources: Voltaire and the Spider-Man comic book. Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI and other researchers have been unable to locate this statement in the oeuvre of Voltaire who died in 1778, and currently that linkage is unsupported.

QI has found a strong match during the period of the French Revolution. The following passage appeared with a date of May 8, 1793 in a collection of the decrees made by the French National Convention. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Les Représentans du peuple se rendront à leur destination, investis de la plus haute confiance et de pouvoirs illimités. Ils vont déployer un grand caractère. Ils doivent envisager qu’une grande responsabilité est la suite inséparable d’un grand pouvoir. Ce sera à leur énergie, à leur courage, et sur-tout à leur prudence, qu’ils devront leur succès et leur gloire.

Here’s one possible translation into English:

The people’s representatives will reach their destination, invested with the highest confidence and unlimited power. They will show great character. They must consider that great responsibility follows inseparably from great power. To their energy, to their courage, and above all to their prudence, they shall owe their success and their glory.

Prominent leaders such as Lord Melbourne, Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt made similar statements in later years. Also, the appearance of an instance in a Spider-Man story in 1962 was influential in U.S. popular culture.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1793 May, Title: Collection Générale des Décrets Rendus par la Convention Nationale, Date: May 8, 1793 (Du 8 Mai 1793), Quote Page 72, Publisher: Chez Baudouin, Imprimeur de la Convention Nationale. A, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link