A Person Has Two Reasons for Doing Anything: A Good Reason and the Real Reason

John Pierpont Morgan? Theodore Roosevelt? Mrs. Walter B. Helm? Anonymous?

morgan04Dear Quote Investigator: There is a wonderful quotation about the true motivations that guide the actions of people. I have seen a few different versions:

A person usually has two reasons for doing something: a good reason and the real reason.

A man always has two reasons for what he does—a good one, and the real one.

A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.

The good reason provides an explanation for others, and the real reason produces the strongest impetus. This adage has been attributed to financier John Pierpont Morgan, President Teddy Roosevelt, and influential essayist Thomas Carlyle. I hope this query gives you a reason to explore this saying.

Quote Investigator: In 1930 the memoir “Roosevelt: The Story of a Friendship” by Owen Wister was published. Wister wrote about his long friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, and he included a quotation that he ascribed to the prominent banker John Pierpont Morgan: 1

Pierpont Morgan once said: “A man always has two reasons for what he does—a good one, and the real one.”

This is the earliest known linkage of the saying to Morgan who died in 1913, and it was also listed in the key reference “The Yale Book of Quotations”. 2

However, versions of the saying were in circulation long before this date, and it may have originated in France. Details are given below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Person Has Two Reasons for Doing Anything: A Good Reason and the Real Reason


  1. 1930, Roosevelt: The Story of a Friendship: 1880-1919, by Owen Wister, Quote Page 280, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section J. P. Morgan, Quote Page 537, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

I Believe the Market Is Going to Fluctuate

John Pierpont Morgan? John D. Rockefeller? William Rockefeller? Jay Gould? Jesse Livermore?

Dear Quote Investigator: The best-known prediction for investors is also the most humorously vacuous. According to legend a young person approached one of the top businessmen in the U.S. and asked with an undertone of desperation for guidance in the stock market. The prominent man looked gravely at his questioner and replied:

I believe the market will fluctuate.

Who crafted this unerringly accurate and perfectly useless forecast? I have heard it attributed to the powerful financier J. P. Morgan and the major industrialist John D. Rockefeller.

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an anecdote credited to Henry Poor in the pages of the Wall Street Journal in October 1922. Today, Henry Poor is remembered as the founder of the firm which became the powerhouse financial analysis company called Standard & Poor’s. He died in 1905 several years before the article presenting the tale was published.

In this version of the story Poor was inquiring about a set of companies called Standard Oils. There were several Standard Oil companies, e.g., Standard Oil of Ohio and Standard Oil of New Jersey, even before the breakup mandated by anti-trust regulators in 1911. The companies were linked together through a trust structure, and John D. Rockefeller was the most powerful owner and executive of the Standard Oil Trust: 1

Henry Poor used to tell this story: He walked down to the financial district with John D. Rockefeller one morning and tried to elicit some information as to the market for Standard Oils. The latter passed two blocks before giving an answer and then said slowly, “I think they will fluctuate.” During the next few days they dropped over 30 points.

In 1924 another instance of the story was printed in the Washington Post. The questioner was an unidentified young person: 2

A smart young man is said to have approached Mr. Rockefeller with the question, “Mr. Rockefeller, what do you think Standard Oil stocks will do?” After ponderous deliberation, the reply was, “Young man, I think they will fluctuate.”

In 1926 the book “Security Speculation: The Dazzling Adventure” was published, and the author presented a variant of the anecdote featuring John Pierpont Morgan instead of Rockefeller. The inquiry concerned the overall stock market and not specific securities. Also, the label “legend” was already being employed: 3

Legend avers that an alert young man once found himself in the immediate presence of the late Mr. J. P. Morgan. Seeking to improve the golden moment, he ventured to inquire Mr. Morgan’s opinion as to the future course of the stock market. The alleged reply has become classic: “Young man, I believe the market is going to fluctuate.”

It did. It always has. Perhaps it always will. In the main, security prices are always and eternally going somewhere.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Believe the Market Is Going to Fluctuate


  1. 1922 October 18, Wall Street Journal, What of the Market?, Quote Page 2, Column 5, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1924 December 31, Washington Post, Straight Talks About Money: Acting on Financial Tips by Mary Elizabeth Allen, Quote Page 10, Column 5, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)
  3. 1926, Security Speculation: The Dazzling Adventure by Laurence H. Sloan (Laurence Henry Sloan), Quote Page 17, Harper & Brothers, New York and London. (Verified on paper)