Patriotism is the Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

Samuel Johnson? James Boswell? Samuel Maunder? Henry F. Mason? Bernard J. Sheil? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A politician whose popularity is dropping may attempt to recapture acceptance by disingenuously embracing jingoistic patriotism. Here are three versions of a germane saying:

  • Pretended patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.
  • Patriotism is the first refuge of a scoundrel.
  • Patriotism is the scoundrel’s last refuge.

Would you please help me to identify an accurate version of this saying together with the identity of its creator?

Quote Investigator: Lexicographer Samuel Johnson was a celebrated eighteenth-century man of letters. Close friend and diarist James Boswell recorded Johnson’s life with exhaustive precision in a multi-volume biography. An entry dated April 7, 1775 mentioned a discussion on the topic (spelled “topick”) of patriotism during which Johnson articulated the saying. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apothegm, at which many will start: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest. I maintained, that certainly all patriots were not scoundrels. Being urged (not by Johnson,) to name one exception, I mentioned an eminent person, whom we all greatly admired.

JOHNSON. “Sir, I do not say that he is not honest; but we have no reason to conclude from his political conduct that he is honest.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Patriotism is the Last Refuge of a Scoundrel


  1. 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.: Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works, Author: James Boswell, Volume 2 of 2, Diary Date: April 7, 1775, Start Page 477, Quote Page 478, Printed by Henry Baldwin for Charles Dilly, London. (Google Books Full View) link