Quote Origin: You Have Enemies? Good. That Means You’ve Stood Up For Something, Sometime In Your Life

Winston Churchill? Victor Hugo? Thomas Jefferson? Jules Sandeau? Charles Mackay? Elminster of Shadowdale? Ed Greenwood? William J. Robinson? Jim Bunning? Eminem? Anonymous?

Silhouette of a person balancing on a rock from Unsplash

Question for Quote Investigator: If you become prominent and influential then you will inevitably face detractors. If you take tough stances on major issues then you will encounter adversaries. The British statesman Winston Churchill has received credit for the following expression:

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.

I am skeptical of this attribution because I have been unable to find a solid citation. This notion has also been credited to U.S. President Thomas Jefferson and French novelist Victor Hugo. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Winston Churchill made this remark. He died in 1965, and he received credit many years later in 2002. Churchill quotation expert Richard M. Langworth was unable to find a citation. He placed this saying into an appendix titled “Red Herrings” of his indispensable compilation “Churchill By Himself: In His Own Words”.1

Thematic matches did appear in the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Victor Hugo, but these quotations were not close matches.

A partial match occurred in 1915 in several newspapers in Iowa and Nebraska. The attribution was anonymous.

The earliest close match found by QI appeared in an “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” fantasy book in 1993.

See below for selected detailed citations in chronological order.

In 1782 Thomas Jefferson penned a letter to military officer George Rogers Clark containing the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:2

That you have enemies you must not doubt, when you reflect that you have made yourself eminent. If you meant to escape malice you should have confined yourself within the sleepy line of regular duty. When you transgressed this and enterprized deeds which will hand down your name with honour to future times, you made yourself a mark for malice and envy to shoot at.

Victor Hugo kept a diary for several decades during the 1800s. A section dated 1845 described Hugo’s advice to educator and politician Abel François Villemain. This excerpt in French3 is followed by an English translation:4

Vous avez des ennemis? Mais c’est l’histoire de tout homme qui a fait une action grande ou créé une idée neuve. C’est la nuée qui bruit autour de tout ce qui brille. Il faut que la renommée ait des ennemis comme il faut que la lumière ait des moucherons.

You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything which shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats.

In 1847 “The Weekly Courier and Journal” of Natchez, Mississippi printed a short piece about enemies.5 The same piece appeared in several other newspapers such as “The Era” of London, England. No attribution was specified:6

Enemies.—Have you enemies? go straight on, and mind them not. If they block up your path, walk round them, and do your duty regardless of their spite. A man who has no enemies, is seldom good for anything—he is made of that kind of material which is so easily worked that every one has a hand in it. A sterling character—one who thinks for himself, and speaks what he thinks, is always sure to have enemies. They are as necessary to him as fresh air. They keep him alive and active.

In 1849 “The American Review” published an English translation of a serialized novel by Jules Sandeau titled “Mademoiselle de la Seigliére”. The work included the following comment about enemies:7

You have enemies; what superior man has not? He must be unfortunate indeed who has not two or three at least.

In 1888 English poet Charles Mackay published a poem titled “No Enemies” which embodied a thematic match:8

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done,
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.

In 1913 William J. Robinson who was the editor and founder of the periodical “The Medico-Pharmaceutical Critic & Guide” printed an editorial in which he said success attracts enemies:9

Then you have enemies merely because you are successful. There are certain people, God bless them, who cannot stand success in others. If you are small and struggling and have to be making constant appeals for money to keep up your paper, they will be your friends. But if thru incessant work and ability a little above the average you have succeeded in creating a large audience, and have thereby become financially successful, those same people will turn your enemies, not active enemies perhaps, but sufficiently so to be disagreeable. There are people in whose eyes success in any direction is a crime.

In 1915 a newspaper in Marshalltown, Iowa printed a partial match for the quotation under examination while acknowledging another newspaper called the “Grundy Democrat”. No attribution was given. The following excerpt uses the word “never” which did not occur in the target expression. The formulation is negative; nevertheless, the underlying idea is similar:10

You have no enemies? Then you never stood up for right against wrong; you never protected the weak against the bully; you never even dared defend your own right against persecution. Had you done these things you would have made enemies.

The passage above was reprinted in other newspapers such as the “Webster City Freeman” of Webster City, Iowa11 and the “Lyons Sun” of Lyons, Nebraska.12

In 1942 journalist H. L. Mencken published “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles”, and he included an entry for the Jefferson quotation. Mencken listed James Steptoe as the recipient of the letter, but current scholarship indicates that George Rogers Clark was the recipient:13

That you have enemies you must not doubt, when you reflect that you have made yourself eminent.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: Letter to James Steptoe, 1782

The earliest close match to the quotation under examination located by QI appeared in a 1993 book by fantasy author Ed Greenwood. This work was part of the “Forgotten Realms” series of the role-playing game “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”. Greenwood’s volume titled “The Code of the Harpers” functioned as a game accessory which presented background descriptions and customized rules. Greenwood used the following invented quotation from a fictional character as a chapter epigraph:14

Ye have enemies? Good, good — that means ye’ve stood up for something, sometime in thy life….
— Elminster of Shadowdale, speaking to a young Harper, Year of the Wyvern

In 1994 a Usenet message sent to the newsgroup rec.arts.tv.soaps from Cari D. Burstein placed the quotation from Greenwood’s 1993 book into its signature block while crediting Elminster of Shadowdale.15

In 2002 U.S. Senator Jim Bunning delivered a tribute to a retiring colleague. Bunning attributed the target quotation to Winston Churchill:16

But let’s not forget what Winston Churchill said about having enemies. “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

In 2007 “Geary’s Guide To the World’s Great Aphorists” by James Geary also attributed the quotation above to Winston Churchill.17

Others have been linked to the expression. For example, in 2012 the “Goodreads” website posted an entry crediting musician Eminem (Marshall Bruce Mathers III):18

“If you have enemies, good that means you stood up for something.”
― Eminem

In March 2022 QI contacted writer Ed Greenwood via twitter and asked him whether he coined the expression in his 1993 fantasy book. Greenwood took credit for originating the phrasing of the quotation:19

The sentiment is an old one (my long-dead grandfather said it to me), but that wording is mine. Yes, I did coin that saying (expressed in those words).

In conclusion, QI believes that fantasy author Ed Greenwood deserves credit for first employing a close match for this expression. He used “ye” instead of “you”, and he assigned the words to his fictional character Elminster of Shadowdale.

Thematic matches have a long history. Thomas Jefferson and Victor Hugo penned pertinent remarks. A partial match from an anonymous person appeared in 1915. The attributions to Winston Churchill and Eminem are unsupported.

Image Notes: Silhouette of a person balancing on a rock from Aziz Acharki at Unsplash. The image has been cropped and resized.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Trevor, Neal Shepperson, Jay Hancock, Terry Teachout, The Light In Life, and Fake History Hunter whose tweets and inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Also, thanks to Joe Stynes who told QI about Charles Mackay’s poem “No Enemies”.  Many thanks to Ed Greenwood for his response to QI’s inquiry via twitter. Special thanks to @joeljsuwu who found the important 1915 citation.

Update history: On March 24, 2022 the tweet from Ed Greenwood was added to the article, and the conclusion was updated. On February 3, 2024 three citations in 1915 were added to the article and the bibliographical notes were reformatted.

  1. 2013 (Kindle Edition), Churchill By Himself: In His Own Words by Winston S. Churchill, Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, Appendix I: Red Herrings, RosettaBooks. (Kindle Location 19660) ↩︎
  2. U.S. National Archives: Founders Online, Letter From: Thomas Jefferson, Letter To: George Rogers Clark, Letter Date: November 26, 1782, Description of Document Source: “Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 6, 21 May 1781–1 March 1784, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952, pp. 204–205.”, Description of Website: Founders Online is an official website of the U.S. government, administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. (Accessed at founders.archives.gov in September 10, 2018) link ↩︎
  3. 1887, Oeuvres Inédites de Victor Hugo: Choses Vues by Victor Hugo, Sixième Edition, Section: Villemain – 1845 Décembre 7, Start Page 87, Quote Page 94, J. Hetzel & Cie, Paris, France. (Google Books Full View) link ↩︎
  4. 1887, Things Seen (Choses Vues) by Victor Hugo, Volume 1, 1845 Villemain, Start Page 82, Quote Page 88 and 89,George Routledge and Sons, Glasgow and New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩︎
  5. 1847 December 15, The Weekly Courier and Journal, Enemies, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Natchez, Mississippi.  (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  6. 1848 November 26, The Era, Our Carpet Bag, Quote Page 10, Column 3, London, England. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  7. 1849 December, The American Review: A Whig Journal Devoted To Politics and Literature, Mademoiselle de la Seigliére by Jules Sandeau, (Translated from French to English) First installment appeared in the July 1849 issue on page 85, Quote appeared in December 1849 issue on page 606, Published at 118 Nassau Street, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩︎
  8. 1888, Selected Poems and Songs of Charles Mackay by Charles Mackay, Chapter: Interludes and Undertones, Poem: No Enemies, Start Page 159 and 160, Whittaker and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link ↩︎
  9. 1913 April, The Medico-Pharmaceutical Critic & Guide, Volume 16, Number 4, Editor and Founder: William J. Robinson, Section: Editorials, The Radical Editor and His Enemies by William J. Robinson, Start Page 115, Quote Page 117, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩︎
  10. 1915 May 24, Evening Times-Republican, The Man Without Enemies, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Marshalltown, Iowa. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  11. 1915 June 8, Webster City Freeman, No Enemies?, Quote Page 2, Column 5, Webster City, Iowa. (Chronicling America) link ↩︎
  12. 1915 August 4, Lyons Sun, A Man Without Enemies, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Lyons, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  13. 1942, A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken), Section: Eminence, Quote Page 339, Column 2, Alfred A. Knopf. New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩︎
  14. 1993 Copyright, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition, Forgotten Realms: The Code of the Harpers by Ed Greenwood, Chapter: Foes of the Harper, (Chapter epigraph), Quote Page 118, Column 1, TSR Inc., Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  15. 1994 February 23, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: rec.arts.tv.soaps, From: Cari D. Burstein, Subject: Suggestions for replacing Vicky/Marley. (Google Groups Search; Accessed March 24, 2022) link ↩︎
  16. 2002, Congressional Record, U. S. Senate, Volume 148, Number 127, Date: October 2, 2002, Tributes to Jesse Helms (Extension of Morning Business), Speaker: Mr. Bunning (Jim Bunning), Quote Page S9802, Column 1, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.  (Congressional Record Archive at congress.gov) link ↩︎
  17. 2007, Geary’s Guide To the World’s Great Aphorists by James Geary, Chapter: Icons and Iconoclasts, Person: Winston Churchill, Quote Page 73, Bloomsbury USA, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  18. Website: Goodreads, Article title: Eminem > Quotes > Quotable Quote, Person: Eminem (Marshall Bruce Mathers III), Timestamp on first ‘Like’: Nov 12, 2012 02:23AM, Website description: Goodreads is a large community for readers that provides book recommendations; the site is owned by Amazon. (Accessed goodreads.com on March 24, 2022) link ↩︎
  19. Tweet, From: Ed Greenwood @TheEdVerse, Time: 10:51 AM, Date: March 24, 2022, Text: The sentiment is an old one (my long-dead grandfather said it to me), but that wording is mine. Yes, I did coin that saying (expressed in those words). (Accessed on twitter.com on March 24, 2022) link ↩︎
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