A Boy of Fifteen Who Is Not a Democrat is Good for Nothing, and He Is No Better Who Is a Democrat at Twenty

John Adams? Thomas Jefferson? John Ewing? John Hurt?

Dear Quote Investigator: Surprisingly, one of the founding fathers of the United States was skeptical about the long-term viability of democracy. The statesman believed that the proponents of democracy were philosophically immature. He was sympathetic to a young person of fifteen who found the system attractive, but he felt that someone over twenty should view a democratic system with suspicion. Would you please help me to find a citation.

Quote Investigator: John Adams was a central figure in the birth of the United States. He helped to draft the Declaration of Independence together with Thomas Jefferson. To temper the impulses of the electorate, Adams argued for the separation of powers. The legislative, executive, and judicial powers should be distinct, so that they could constrain one another.

Adams was skeptical of direct democracy. He favored a representative republic structure in which the people elected representatives to a legislature. Adams was the second president of the U.S. from 1797 to 1801. The papers of Thomas Jefferson included an interesting anecdote that occurred during Adams’s presidency. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

January, 1799. In a conversation between Doctor Ewen and the President, the former said one of his sons was an aristocrat, the other a democrat. The President asked if it was not the youngest who was the democrat. Yes, said Ewen. Well, said the President, a boy of fifteen who is not a democrat is good for nothing, and he is no better who is a democrat at twenty. Ewen told Hurt, and Hurt told me.

Thus, this story was transmitted through two intermediaries before it reached the ears of Jefferson. A footnote accompanying this passage which is available at the “Founders Online” website of the U.S. National Archives identifies the intermediaries. 2 “Ewen” was an alternative spelling of “Ewing”, and “Dr. Ewen” referred to John Ewing. John Hurt was a former chaplain of Virginia who was a political supporter of Jefferson.

The Quote Investigator website has a separate article about a thematically pertinent expression: “If You Are Not a Liberal at 25, You Have No Heart. If You Are Not a Conservative at 35 You Have No Brain” Here is a link to that item.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Boy of Fifteen Who Is Not a Democrat is Good for Nothing, and He Is No Better Who Is a Democrat at Twenty


  1. 1829, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Edited by Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Volume 4, Entry date: January 1799, Quote Page 509, F. Carr and Company, Charlottesville, Virginia. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Website: Founders Online, Title: Notes on Comments by John Adams, [1–14 January 1799], Footnote for “Dr. Ewen”. Website description: In 2010, the U.S. National Archives entered into a cooperative agreement with The University of Virginia Press to create this website and make freely available online the historical documents of the Founders of the United States of America. (founders.archives.gov accessed on June 2, 2021) link

Honesty Is the 1st Chapter in the Book of Wisdom

Thomas Jefferson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A large number of the quotations attributed to Thomas Jefferson are apocryphal; hence, I have learned to be cautious. Do you know whether the following remark is from the pen of Jefferson?

Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.

Any help would be appreciated.

Quote Investigator: Thomas Jefferson sent a two page letter to Nathaniel Macon on January 12, 1819. The saying about honesty appeared on the second page. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Whether the succeeding generation is to be more virtuous than their predecessors, I cannot say; but I am sure they will have more worldly wisdom, and enough, I hope, to know that honesty is the 1st chapter in the book of wisdom.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Honesty Is the 1st Chapter in the Book of Wisdom


  1. Library of Congress, Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Macon, (Page 2 of 2 Images), Date of letter: January 12, 1819, Location of letter writer: Monticello, Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Washington D.C. (Accessed loc.gov on July 21, 2019) link

Nothing Can Stop a Person with the Right Mental Attitude from Achieving His or Her Goal

Thomas Jefferson? W. W. Ziege? Elbert Hubbard? Orison Swett Marden? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Several spiritual traditions assert that thoughts and beliefs can directly alter the world. Maintaining a positive outlook is highly desirable as indicated in the following proposition:

Nothing can stop a person with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help a person with the wrong mental attitude.

These words are often attributed to U.S. statesman Thomas Jefferson, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Researcher Anna Berkes of Monticello.org states that the quotation has not been found in any of the writings of Thomas Jefferson, and the ascription is deemed spurious. 1

The earliest strong match located by QI occurred in “Forbes” magazine in January 1948 within a section called “Thoughts on the Business of Life”. The statement was credited to W. W. Ziege who was a high-level member of AMORC (Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis). Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. — W. W. Ziege.

No precise citation was given in “Forbes” magazine, and QI has not yet found a closely matching statement within the writings of Ziege, but he did craft a semantically similar remark in a 1945 piece published in “The Rosicrucian Digest”. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nothing Can Stop a Person with the Right Mental Attitude from Achieving His or Her Goal


  1. Website: Thomas Jefferson: Monticello, Article title: Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude… (Spurious Quotation), Article author: Anna Berkes, Creation date on website: April 20, 2010, Revision date on website: April 25, 2018, Website description: Monticello was the home of Thomas Jefferson. It has been maintained and kept open to the public by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. (Accessed monticello.org on January 19, 2019) link
  2. 1948 January 15, Forbes, Thoughts on the Business of Life, Quote Page 42, Column 3, Forbes Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)

This World Is the Lunatic Asylum of the Universe

Mark Twain? Thomas Jefferson? Voltaire? Edward Young? George Bernard Shaw? Laird MacKenzie? Elsie McCormick? Bertrand Russell? Kurt Vonnegut? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Several thinkers have offered an anguished explanation for the dangerously disordered state of the world. Here are four versions:

  • This world is the lunatic asylum for other planets.
  • Earth is a madhouse for the Universe
  • The other planets use Earth as an insane asylum.
  • Our world is bedlam for other worlds.

This notion has been credited to Mark Twain, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, George Bernard Shaw and others. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: This is a complex topic; hence, QI will split the response into three articles; an article centered on Voltaire’s quotation is available here; an article centered on George Bernard Shaw’s quotation is available here; the overview article is presented below.

A thematic match occurred in a lengthy work by the English poet Edward Young. The poem was called “The Complaint, Or, Night-thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality”, and it was split into a sequence of numbered “Nights”. The expression appeared in “Night Nine” which was serialized in “The Scots Magazine” in 1747. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

But what are we? You never heard of Man,
Or Earth; the Bedlam of the universe!
Where Reason, undiseas’d with you, runs mad,
And nurses Folly’s children as her own;

Voltaire wrote a story “Memnon ou La Sagesse Humaine” (“Memnon or Human Wisdom”) in the late 1740s and published it by 1749. The main character Memnon mentions Earth’s place in the universe. Here is an English translation from 1807: 2

“I am afraid,” said Memnon, “that our little terraqueous globe here is the mad-house of those hundred thousand millions of worlds, of which your Lordship does me the honour to speak.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading This World Is the Lunatic Asylum of the Universe


  1. 1747 May, The Scots Magazine, Volume 9, Section: Poetical Essays, The Complaint, Night 9 and Last: The Consolation, (by Edward Young), Continuation of Complaint, Night 9, Start Page 221, Quote Page 225, Printed by W. Sands, A. Murray, and J. Cochran, Edinburgh, Scotland. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1807, Classic Tales: Serious and Lively, Volume 2, Voltaire, Story: Memnon the Philosopher; or Human Wisdom, Start Page 181, Quote Page 188 and 189, Printed and Published by and for John Hunt & Carew Reynell, London. (Google Books Full View) link

That You Have Enemies, You Must Not Doubt, When You Reflect That You Have Made Yourself Eminent

Creator: Thomas Jefferson, Statesman, U.S. President

Context: Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter dated November 26, 1782 to George Rogers Clark, and he discussed the unavoidability of facing enemies when one’s actions are momentous enough to be recorded in history books. Emphasis added to this excerpt: 1

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.

Related Article 01: You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed. Victor Hugo


  1. 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 through the NHPRC, in partnership with the University of Virginia Press, which is hosting this website.” (Accessed at founders.archives.gov in September 10, 2018) link

If You Don’t Read the Newspaper You Are Uninformed, If You Do Read the Newspaper You Are Misinformed

Mark Twain? Denzel Washington? Thomas Jefferson? Thomas Fuller? Orville Hubbard? Ezra Taft Benson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A cynical attitude toward the media is widespread today, but this is not a new development. Supposedly, Mark Twain made the following remark:

If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.

Are these really the words of the famous humorist?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said this. It is not listed on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt. 1 In addition, QI has been unable find an instance in key compilations like “Mark Twain Speaking” edited by Paul Fatout 2 and “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 3

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a message posted in 2000 to an international discussion system named Usenet within a newsgroup called israel.francophones. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 4

As Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading If You Don’t Read the Newspaper You Are Uninformed, If You Do Read the Newspaper You Are Misinformed


  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched December 3, 2016) link
  2. 1976, Mark Twain Speaking, Edited by Paul Fatout, Published by University of Iowa Press, Iowa City. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. November 2, 2000, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: israel.francophones, From: tsip…@my-deja.com, Subject: Reagir/Presse. (Google Groups Search; Accessed November 28, 2016)

A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes

Mark Twain? Jonathan Swift? Thomas Francklin? Fisher Ames? Thomas Jefferson? John Randolph? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? Winston Churchill? Terry Pratchett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An insightful remark about the rapid transmission of lies is often attributed to Mark Twain. Here are two versions:

(1) A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.

(2) A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on

I have not found this statement in any of the books written by Twain; hence, I am skeptical of this ascription. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: A version of this adage was attributed to Mark Twain in 1919, but Twain died in 1910. QI believes that this evidence of a linkage was not substantive. Details of the 1919 citation are given further below.

Metaphorical maxims about the speedy dissemination of lies and the much slower propagation of corrective truths have a very long history. The major literary figure Jonathan Swift wrote on this topic in “The Examiner” in 1710 although he did not mention shoes or boots. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…

The phrasing and figurative language used in these sayings have been evolving for more than three hundred years. In 1787 “falsehood” was reaching “every corner of the earth”. In 1820 a colorful version was circulating with lies flying from “Maine to Georgia” while truth was “pulling her boots on”. By 1834 “error” was running “half over the world” while truth was “putting on his boots”. In 1924 a lie was circling the globe while a truth was “lacing its shoes on”.

Top researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake identified the passage by Swift listed above and several other important items covered in this article.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes


  1. 1710 November 2 to November 9, The Examiner, Number 15, (Article by Jonathan Swift), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Printed for John Morphew, near Stationers-Hall, London. (Google Books Full View) link

I Am an Old Man and Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened

Mark Twain? Thomas Jefferson? Martin Farquhar Tupper? Seneca? Winston Churchill? James A. Garfield? Thomas Dixon? Michel de Montaigne? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone faces difficulties in life; however, the worry-filled anticipation of possible setbacks pointlessly magnifies dangers. A comical statement illuminating this theme has been attributed to both Mark Twain and Winston Churchill:

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

I hope you will be willing to explore this saying. An upbeat perspective suggests that great discoveries await.

Quote Investigator: A version of this quip was ascribed to Mark Twain in a Singapore newspaper in 1923, but Twain died in 1910; hence, this evidence is quite weak. Winston Churchill employed an instance of the saying in 1924, but he attributed the words to an anonymous “old man”. Details for these citations are given further below.

The earliest strong match located by QI was published in 1881. The humorous remark was spoken by President-elect James A. Garfield who was discussing the large number of tasks he would be facing as President. The statement was reported in the Cleveland Leader of Cleveland, Ohio, and the phrasing indicated that Garfield was referencing a saying that was already in circulation: 1

I remember the old man who said he had had a great many troubles in his life, but the worst of them never happened.

Interesting ideational precursors of this expression were used by Seneca the Younger, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Farquhar Tupper.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order which trace the evolution of the sentiment and the saying.

Continue reading I Am an Old Man and Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened


  1. 1881 February 19, Cleveland Leader, The Next President: Visited Yesterday by the Now Popular Governor Murray, Article section header: I Have Got Into A Way, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

I’m a Great Believer in Luck. The Harder I Work, the More Luck I Have

Thomas Jefferson? Coleman Cox? Stephen Leacock? Samuel Goldwyn? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a humorously insightful quotation about luck that is often credited to the American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson:

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.

The class notes of a course taught by the renowned entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel featured this quote. Here is a more concise version of the saying:

The harder I work, the more luck I have.

Is this remark really connected to Jefferson?

Quote Investigator: The saying has been ascribed to Jefferson for a few decades. However, the valuable Thomas Jefferson Monticello website states that there is no evidence to support the attribution [TJGB]:

Neither this statement nor any variations thereof have ever been found in Thomas Jefferson’s writings.

The earliest close match for this aphorism known to QI is in a 1922 collection titled “Listen to This” by Coleman Cox who composed a large number of sayings [CCGB]:

I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.

This theme has been reflected in adages for quite a long time. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations lists the following proverb which it dates to the late 16th century [OXDL]:

Diligence is the mother of good luck.

A novel in 1857 “The Laird of Restalrig’s Daughter” presented a maxim about luck in a comical context. The following passage used alternate spellings to reflect dialect [JHGL]:

Good luck mainly depends on the thrying to get it, as Darby O’Reilly said when he made Thady O’Rhu’s will afther the creathur was dead, and left the whole dollop iv his fortune to himself, sure.

In 1870 the periodical “Contemporary Review” reprinted a small collection of “Notices to Correspondents” from the London Journal. These items were similar to the classified advertisements or Craigslist ads of today. A notice from a woman named Maggie May commented about luck [CRNC]:

People make their own luck in this world.

In 1879 the American Bee Journal printed the same basic adage about luck [BJML]:

I think that many of you will say, “You make your own luck.”

In 1890 an agricultural magazine “Western Garden and Poultry Journal” linked hard work with making your own luck [WGML]:

Poor luck is often given as an excuse for lack of energy. You make your own luck and must work hard and plan carefully if you would succeed.

This post continues with additional selected citations in chronological order.

Note that information from the website of top etymologist and quote-tracer Barry Popik helped QI to construct this short essay. A commenter using the name “Anna Berkes” at the website provided an important lead to the saying which was credited to Coleman Cox in 1923 in a magazine [ANBP] [CMCC].

Continue reading I’m a Great Believer in Luck. The Harder I Work, the More Luck I Have