Facts Are Stubborn Things

John Adams? Tobias Smollett? Alain-René Lesage?

Dear Quote Investigator: In class last year we studied the Boston Massacre and our history book said that John Adams, who later became the second President of the United States, defended the soldiers who shot and killed the protesters. During the defense Adams used the famous phrase:

Facts are stubborn things.

But when I looked up this phrase in an old copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations I found that someone named Tobias Smollett was credited. Further, Smollett used the phrase when he was translating a book that was written even earlier by a Frenchman. Can you investigate this?

Quote Investigator: The evidence indicates that John Adams did use the phrase; however, before he used it Tobias Smollett employed it. Further, the French author Alain-René Lesage wrote the book that Smollett translated. Intriguingly, QI has located an instance of the proverb that predates the usage by each of these three gentlemen.

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