He Is a Great Rascal. Ah! But He Is Our Rascal

Franklin D. Roosevelt? Abraham Lincoln? Thaddeus Stevens? Benjamin Butler? Philip Cook? Bill Higgins? John Franklin Carter? Justin Herman? Wayne Hays? Alistair Cooke? Cordell Hull? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A participant in the harsh domain of political power often faces difficult decisions. For example, should one promote a member of one’s party even when one knows that the individual is a scoundrel? Also, should one maintain support for an ally even when the ally is disreputable or barbarous? The following dialog depicts a challenge and response:

“How can you support that scoundrel?”
“He may be a scoundrel, but he’s our scoundrel.”

Over the years many other words have been used to describe the miscreant, e.g., rascal, scalawag, scoundrel, so-and-so, son-of-a-bitch, and bastard. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in a Wilmington, North Carolina newspaper editorial in 1868. The two participants in the dialog were not identified. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We are forcibly reminded by these arguments of the Radicals of the reply of one of their party, in attempting to persuade a rather conscientious member to vote for a certain candidate whose character was none the best. “He is a great rascal,” indignantly proposed the friend. “Ah! but he is our rascal,” was the significant rejoinder.

Many instances conforming to this template have appeared during the ensuing decades. Here is a sampling showing the key line together with a year:

1868: Ah! but he is our rascal.
1875: Of course, of course, but which of ’em is our damned rascal?
1889: Yes, I know, but then he’s our scalawag.
1895: Never mind that; all we want to know is that he is our scoundrel.
1904: Yes, I know, but he is our scoundrel.
1934: After all, Blank isn’t so bad. He’s our So and So!
1934: After all, Blank isn’t so bad. He’s our son-of-a-bitch!
1948: He’s a sonofabitch but he’s ours.
1962: He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.
1969: He was a Grade-A bastard, but at least he was our bastard and not theirs.

QI wishes to acknowledge researchers Bonnie Taylor-Blake and Barry Popik who identified many valuable examples.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading He Is a Great Rascal. Ah! But He Is Our Rascal

Notes:

  1. 1868 July 26, The Daily Journal, “Our Rebels”, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Wilmington, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

I Never Vote For Anybody. I Always Vote Against

W. C. Fields? Franklin P. Adams? H. L. Mencken? Richard Croker? Franklin D. Roosevelt? Will Rogers?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of sardonic sayings about the behavior of voters. Here are three examples:

  • I never vote for anybody. I always vote against.
  • People vote against somebody rather than for somebody.
  • The people never vote for anything. They always vote against something.

This viewpoint has been attributed to popular columnist Franklin P. Adams, curmudgeonly commentator H. L. Mencken, and star comedian W. C. Fields. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a Pennsylvanian newspaper in 1893. Richard Croker, a powerful New York City politician, applied the saying to a group of political activists. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Boss Croker, of Tammany, defines a mugwump as a man who always votes against somebody and never votes for anybody. That’s a pretty clever description.

Franklin P. Adams used an instance of the saying in 1916, but he disclaimed credit for the expression. H. L. Mencken used an instance in 1925, but he also disclaimed credit. A version was ascribed to W. C. Fields in a 1949 biography. Detailed information appears further below.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Never Vote For Anybody. I Always Vote Against

Notes:

  1. 1893 October 30, Harrisburg Telegraph, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Voltaire? Spider-Man? Winston Churchill? Theodore Roosevelt? Franklin D. Roosevelt? Lord Melbourne? John Cumming? Hercules G. R. Robinson? Henry W. Haynes? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular saying about the relationship between ascendancy and obligation:

With great power comes great responsibility.

This expression has been attributed to two very different sources: Voltaire and the Spider-Man comic book. Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI and other researchers have been unable to locate this statement in the oeuvre of Voltaire who died in 1778, and currently that linkage is unsupported.

QI has found a strong match during the period of the French Revolution. The following passage appeared with a date of May 8, 1793 in a collection of the decrees made by the French National Convention. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Les Représentans du peuple se rendront à leur destination, investis de la plus haute confiance et de pouvoirs illimités. Ils vont déployer un grand caractère. Ils doivent envisager qu’une grande responsabilité est la suite inséparable d’un grand pouvoir. Ce sera à leur énergie, à leur courage, et sur-tout à leur prudence, qu’ils devront leur succès et leur gloire.

Here’s one possible translation into English:

The people’s representatives will reach their destination, invested with the highest confidence and unlimited power. They will show great character. They must consider that great responsibility follows inseparably from great power. To their energy, to their courage, and above all to their prudence, they shall owe their success and their glory.

Prominent leaders such as Lord Melbourne, Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt made similar statements in later years. Also, the appearance of an instance in a Spider-Man story in 1962 was influential in U.S. popular culture.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Notes:

  1. 1793 May, Title: Collection Générale des Décrets Rendus par la Convention Nationale, Date: May 8, 1793 (Du 8 Mai 1793), Quote Page 72, Publisher: Chez Baudouin, Imprimeur de la Convention Nationale. A, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link