Adlai Stevenson? William Randolph Hearst? Chauncey Depew? Asa W. Tenney? Harold Wilson? Michael Douglas? Gordon Gekko? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Several politicians have attacked the prevarications of opponents by employing a quip from a family of humorous sayings. Here are two examples:
- If they will not lie about our past, we will not tell the truth about their past.
- If they are willing to stop telling lies about us then we will stop telling the truth about them.
A statement of this type has been credited to U.S. Senator and raconteur Chauncey Depew; newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst; and U.S. Governor and diplomat Adlai Stevenson II. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: Chauncey Depew did deliver a quip within this family in 1892. William Randolph Hearst employed an instance in 1906, and Adlai Stevenson used an instance during a speech in 1952. Tracing this family is difficult because of its mutability. Yet, the evidence clearly shows that the saying was in circulation before it was used by the individuals above.
A precursor appeared in a Kansas newspaper in 1884, and QI hypothesizes that the template of this remark facilitated the emergence of the family under analysis. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
The Democratic press cries out, “If you do not stop telling the truth on CLEVELAND, we will manufacture some lies about BLAINE.”
In July 1888 another precursor appeared in an Indiana newspaper: 2
If Democratic papers continue their lying about General Harrison they may finally goad Republicans into telling the truth about Cleveland.
In September 1888 Judge Asa W. Tenney of Brooklyn delivered a speech that was reported in the “Buffalo Evening News” of Buffalo, New York. The following excerpt included the first instance within the family of sayings under examination. The passage contained the misspelling “Tenny” for “Tenney”: 3
Judge Tenny rang the changes of ridicule upon the President’s message and said: “It’s too late, Father Cleveland, to talk about reform when 137 convicts have been appointed by you to offices of high trust; It’s too late; you ought to have thought about reform when you lived in Buffalo.
“But I’ll not pursue this subject. The Republicans and Democrats have made a solemn contract that if the Democrats will stop lying about Harrison the Republicans will stop telling the truth about Cleveland.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1884 August 7, The Atchison Daily Champion, (Untitled filter item), Quote Page 2, Column 3, Atchison, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1888 July 14, The Indianapolis Journal, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1888 September 27, Buffalo Evening News, Judge Tenney’s Address, Quote Page 1, Column 2, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com) ↩