Tag Archives: Theodore Roosevelt

Patriotism Means To Stand by the Country. It Does Not Mean To Stand by the President or Any Other Public Official

Theodore Roosevelt? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a spirited disagreement on Facebook about whether the following statement can be ascribed to Theodore Roosevelt:

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President.

Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Several U.S. presidential administrations have been greeted by critics who have cited this expression. In May 1918 Theodore Roosevelt published an article titled “Lincoln and Free Speech” in “Metropolitan Magazine” which began with the following paragraph. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

PATRIOTISM means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him in so far as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth—whether about the President or about anyone else—save in the rare cases where this would make known to the enemy information of military value which would otherwise be unknown to him.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1918 May, Metropolitan Magazine, Volume 47, Number 6, Lincoln and Free Speech by Theodore Roosevelt, Start Page 7, Quote Page 7, Column 1, The Metropolitan Magazine Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

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?

scales08Dear 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


  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

The Hottest Places in Hell Are Reserved for Those Who in a Period of Moral Crisis Maintain Their Neutrality

Dante Alighieri? John F. Kennedy? John A. Hutton? Theodore Roosevelt? W. M. Vines? Henry Powell Spring? Apocryphal?

inferno09Dear Quote Investigator: Dante Alighieri composed the famous tripartite epic poem “The Divine Comedy”. The following statement was supposedly included in the first part called “Inferno”:

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.

I have been unable to find this expression in any English translations of the poem. One webpage at Goodreads asserts that President John F. Kennedy attributed the remark to Dante. Another webpage at Goodreads claims that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. made the ascription to Dante. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Dante’s poem does include a section describing the fate of individuals who were neutral between good and evil. Their experiences were gruesome, but they were not placed in a location that was scorching hot.

Dante placed Satan at the lowest part of Hell which was at the center of the Earth, but that location was also not hot. Instead, Satan was trapped with ice around his waist.

QI believes that the statement under investigation evolved in a multistep process from a changing and imperfect interpretation of Dante’s work. In 1915 Theodore Roosevelt accurately wrote that Dante had “reserved a special place of infamy” for neutral angels. In 1917 a religious orator named W. M. Vines incorrectly stated that Dante had placed neutral individuals “in the lowest place in hell”.

In 1944 the spiritual writer Henry Powell Spring penned a book of aphorisms that included a statement ascribed to Dante that closely matched the modern quotation. John F. Kennedy used the saying several times in speeches in the 1950s and later. Kennedy also attributed the remark to Dante.

The remainder of this article consists of two main sections. First, selected citations are used to trace the expression chronologically. Second, a group of citations presents examples of the proposed denizens of the “worst place in hell”, “the hottest place in hell”, and “the very heart of hell”.

Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik for his valuable pioneering exploration of this topic. 1

Continue reading


  1. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who…maintain their neutrality”, Date on website: November 21, 2009, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik on January 14, 2015) link

The Person Who Never Makes a Mistake Will Never Make Anything

Theodore Roosevelt? Albert Einstein? Benjamin Franklin? Samuel Smiles? Josh Billings? Mr. Phelps? G. K. Chesterton? Robert Smith Surtees? Joseph Conrad? Will Rogers? Anonymous?

samsmiles11Dear Quote Investigator: Mistakes are unavoidable in the life of an active and vital person. Several adages highlight this important theme:

1) A man who never makes a mistake will never make anything.
2) The person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.
3) A fellow who never makes a mistake must get tired of doing nothing.

Many famous names have been linked to sayings of this type including Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, and Albert Einstein. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: This is a large and complex topic. Below is a summary that presents a list of expressions that fit into this family together with dates and attributions:

1832: He who never makes an effort, never risks a failure. (Anonymous)

1859: He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery. (Samuel Smiles)

1874: The man who never makes enny blunders seldum makes enny good hits. (Josh Billings)

1889: A man who never makes a mistake will never make anything. (Attributed: Mr. Phelps)

1896: It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes. (Joseph Conrad)

1900: The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything. (Solid Attribution: Theodore Roosevelt)

1901: Show me a man who has never made a mistake, and I will show you one who has never tried anything. (Anonymous)

1903: The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all—doing nothing. (Poor Richard Junior’s Philosophy)

1911: The fellow who never makes any failures, never makes any successes either. (Anonymous)

1927: Every man makes mistakes; they say a man who never makes mistakes never makes anything else. (G. K. Chesterton)

1936: The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all—doing nothing. (Flawed Attribution: Benjamin Franklin)

1969: The man who never makes a mistake must get plenty tired of doing nothing. (Anonymous)

1993: The man who never makes a mistake must get tired of doing nothing. (Weak Attribution: Will Rogers)

1995: A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new. (Weak Attribution: Albert Einstein.)

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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A Person Has Two Reasons for Doing Anything: A Good Reason and the Real Reason

John Pierpont Morgan? Theodore Roosevelt? Mrs. Walter B. Helm? Anonymous?

morgan04Dear Quote Investigator: There is a wonderful quotation about the true motivations that guide the actions of people. I have seen a few different versions:

A person usually has two reasons for doing something: a good reason and the real reason.

A man always has two reasons for what he does—a good one, and the real one.

A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.

The good reason provides an explanation for others, and the real reason produces the strongest impetus. This adage has been attributed to financier John Pierpont Morgan, President Teddy Roosevelt, and influential essayist Thomas Carlyle. I hope this query gives you a reason to explore this saying.

Quote Investigator: In 1930 the memoir “Roosevelt: The Story of a Friendship” by Owen Wister was published. Wister wrote about his long friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, and he included a quotation that he ascribed to the prominent banker John Pierpont Morgan: 1

Pierpont Morgan once said: “A man always has two reasons for what he does—a good one, and the real one.”

This is the earliest known linkage of the saying to Morgan who died in 1913, and it was also listed in the key reference “The Yale Book of Quotations”. 2

However, versions of the saying were in circulation long before this date, and it may have originated in France. Details are given below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1930, Roosevelt: The Story of a Friendship: 1880-1919, by Owen Wister, Quote Page 280, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section J. P. Morgan, Quote Page 537, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

Attitude Is a Little Thing That Makes a Big Difference

Winston Churchill? Theodore Roosevelt? Zig Ziglar? Anonymous?

churchillzig02Dear Quote Investigator: I work in an office where they hang inspirational posters on the wall. The caption of one sign credits the following words to the master orator Winston Churchill:

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

I think that the person who created the poster knows that a distinguished attribution is a little thing that can make a big difference in the perception of a quotation. But this ascription seems laughably unlikely. Could you examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: This expression is not listed in “Churchill by Himself”, a comprehensive collection of Churchill quotations, 1 and QI has not located any substantive evidence linking the statement to him.

Writers have been deploying sentences that emphasized the contrast between a “little thing” and a “big difference” for more than one-hundred years. Here is an example in a letter about photography printed in Recreation magazine in 1895: 2

In our High School Scientific Association we founded an amateur photographic club, of which I was elected president, and we have pecks of fun out of it. Some of us learned, in a short time, that “little things make a big difference in the wonderful art of photography.”

Here is an example in 1920 from a book by an advertising specialist: 3

In the offices of most newspapers and many magazines there simply isn’t time to fuss over the little things that make such a big difference in the appearance of advertisements.

In 1977 a famous motivational writer and speaker named Zig Ziglar wrote a comment about attitude in his popular book “See You at the Top” that matched the saying under investigation: 4

Attitude is the “little” thing that makes the big difference. The story of life proves that it is often the minute things that spell the differences between triumph and tragedy, success and failure, victory or defeat. For example, if you call a girl a kitten, she will love you. Call her a cat and you’re in trouble.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 2008, Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations, Edited by Richard Langworth, PublicAffairs, New York.
  2. 1895 May, Recreation, Editor and Manager George O. Shields, (Letter to the editor from Paul A. Ulrich), Volume 2, Number 5, Quote Page 390, Column 2, Published by G.O. Shields (Coquina), New York. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1920, Making Advertisements and Making Them Pay by Roy S. Durstine (Roy Sarles Durstine), Quote Page 164, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  4. 1977, See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar, Segment Five: Attitude: Chapter One, Quote Page 204, (Twenty-seventh printing in January 1982), Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana. (Verified on paper)