Sinclair Lewis? Huey Long? Eugene V. Debs? Lonnie Jackson? A. L. Sachar? James Waterman Wise? Robert H. Jackson? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The impulses of nationalism and authoritarianism sometimes combine to produce devastating results. The following saying has been attributed to the prominent writer Sinclair Lewis and the populist politician Huey Long:
When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag.
The phrase “and carrying a cross” is often added to this saying. I have not found any solid citations for Lewis or Long. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence ascribing this remark to Sinclair Lewis or Huey Long. In addition, the “Sinclair Lewis Society” was unable to find this quotation in the Lewis’s oeuvre. 1 A thematically germane Lewis quotation from 1935 is presented further below. QI has also examined a different, but related, quotation ascribed to Huey Long:
Sure, we’ll have fascism in this country, and we’ll call it anti-fascism
That entry is available here.
In 1917 “The Muncie Sunday Star” of Indiana printed an announcement for a speech that prominent labor activist Eugene V. Debs was planning to deliver. The announcement presented a quotation from Debs which partially matched the saying under examination: 2
Every robber or oppressor in history has wrapped himself in a cloak of patriotism or religion, or both. I am not a patriot as defined in the lexicon of the house of Morgan. I’d not murder my fellow men of my own accord, and why should I do it at the behest of the master class?
During a speech delivered in 1918 Debs made a similar statement: 3
No wonder Jackson said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.” He had the Wall Street gentry in mind or their prototypes, at least; for in every age it has been the tyrant, who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both. (Shouts of “Good, good” from the crowd) (applause).
As a digression, QI notes that the Jackson attribution was flawed. Evidence indicates that lexicographer Samuel Johnson coined the adage “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. A separate QI article about that saying is available here.
In 1922 a partially matching statement printed in a North Carolina newspaper was applied to the Ku Klux Klan. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 4
Governor Allen has made a fine epigram on the K. K. K.—Race prejudice wrapped in the flag and sold for $10.
In 1923 Lonnie Jackson, mayor of Central City, Kentucky and president of District No. 23 of the United Mine Workers of America described the Ku Klux Klan using a matching phrase: 5
“The Ku Klux Klan comes wrapped in the American flag, as it were, advocating the American principles openly, with a Bible in its hand, and the very next day they are passing their neighbors with a mask over their faces. My conception of the fundamental principles of Americanism is that a man should have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- Website: Sinclair Lewis Society, Article title: Here’s our most asked question, Date on website: 2012 Copyright, Website description: “The Sinclair Lewis Society was formed to encourage study of, critical attention to, and general interest in the work, career, and legacy of Sinclair Lewis”. (Accessed english.illinoisstate.edu on July 27, 2017) link ↩
- 1917 March 25, The Muncie Sunday Star (The Star Press), Advertisement: DEBS At Wysor Grand This Afternoon, March 25, 2:30 O’Clock, Some of Mr. Deb’s Sayings, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Muncie, Indiana. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1918, Supreme Court of the United States, October Term, 1918, No. 714, Eugene V. Debs, Plantiff in Error vs. The United States of America, (Testimony of Edward R. Sterling who attended a speech delivered by Eugene V. Debs on June 16, 1918 at Nimisila park, Canton and took notes in shorthand), Start Page 193, Quote Page 199, Printers Judd & Detweiler, Washington D.C. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1922 December 21, The Goldsboro Daily Argus, (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 4, Goldsboro, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1923 August 31, The Garment Worker: Official Journal of the United Garment Workers of America, Volume 22, Number 45, Ku Klux Klan Menace to Union Labor, Says Mayor of Kentucky City, Byline: International Labor News Service, Quote Page 3, Column 1, United Garment Workers of America, New York. (HathiTrust) link ↩