Quote Investigator

Every Successful Revolution Puts On In Time the Robes of the Tyrant It Has Deposed

Barbara W. Tuchman? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular historian Barbara W. Tuchman said that a successful revolution eventually reinstates the tyrannical behavior that precipitated the initial rebellion. I do not recall the precise wording she used. Would you please help me to find this quotation?

Quote Investigator: In 1971 Barbara W. Tuchman published “Stilwell and the American Experience in China: 1911-45” which included the following passage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The fervor of the Kuomintang’s youth had passed to the Communists leaving Chungking with history’s most melancholy tale: that every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.

Below are three additional selected citations.

In 1977 the influential collector Laurence J. Peter placed the statement in “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time”: 2

Every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed. —Barbara Tuchman

In 1996 “The Montgomery Advertiser” of Alabama employed a version of the saying without attribution: 3

A recent caller complained about human rights abuses that the Cubans have suffered under Castro, but in all historical fairness, like any successful revolutionary, Castro has only donned the robes of the tyrant he deposed.

In 1997 “Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes: Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions” printed the saying with an attribution to Tuchman within a section called “Whoever Doesn’t Know the Past”. 4

In conclusion, Barbara W. Tuchman should receive credit for the words she wrote in the 1971 citation.

Image Notes: Portrait of King Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet circa 1789. Portrait of Napoleon in coronation robes by François Gérard circa 1805. Images accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been cropped and resized.

Notes:

  1. 1971, Stilwell and the American Experience in China: 1911-45 by Barbara W. Tuchman (Barbara Wertheim Tuchman), Chapter 8: Military Attaché: Sino-Japanese War, 1937-39, Quote Page 184 and 185, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1977, “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” by Laurence J. Peter, Section: Revolution / Rebellion, Quote Page 432, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  3. 1996 September 28, The Montgomery Advertiser, Opinion: Before Castro, Quote Page 15A, Column 2, Montgomery, Alabama. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1997, Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes: Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions, Topic: Whoever Doesn’t Know the Past, Quote Page 205, Published by Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified on paper)