Reference > Quotations > Respectfully Quoted
   Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations.  1989.
This is a different kind of quotation book. Most quotation books are compiled by learned literateurs who sit in silent rooms reading the words of wise people and asking, “I wonder if that thought might be useful to somebody?” These quotations have already answered that question. They have already been used by somebody, and others have already heard them, have already decided they want to use them again, and that they want to be sure they have got them exactly right for further public consumption.  1

For nearly seventy-five years, Members of Congress and their staffs have been calling the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress to verify quotations that they wanted to use in public debate. They wished to be certain that these quotations were both accurate and armored against challenge. In most cases the quotes they sought were ones they had heard someone else use, but in some cases they were ones that had been flung at them by the opposition, and the Members were sufficiently irritated that they hoped the quote could be refuted, labelled spurious, and buried once and for all. Either way, they turned to the CRS for authentication and the Service in turn turned to the almost limitless resources of the Library of Congress.
  Through the years, this matter of quotation verification became big business. The quotations increased from the tens to the hundreds and have now reached thousands each year. (The CRS, incidentally, now receives congressional inquiries of all varieties in excess of 1500 queries a day!)  3
  Most of the “quote questions” were handled by the staff of a unit called the Congressional Reading Room, and after some twenty years of this reference work, the staff began to detect three kinds of citations that seemed to stand apart from the routine traffic: the hard ones, the repetitive ones, and the impossible ones. All of these consumed an unusual amount of research time, and ultimately—now almost fifty years ago—the “CRR Quote File” was created to prevent staff from wasting time on citations that had already been found and to identify those items which had proved to be either “spurious” or “unidentifiable” after reasonable, professional search. The 2100 quotations in this book are the cumulated result of fifty years of such insertions into that Congressional Reading Room Quotation File.  4

These quotations come from the real world of cut and thrust politics. They show the combination of spirit and humor that represents American political activity at its best. Recalling that each of these quotations was requested specifically by some Member or his staff, it is intriguing to speculate on what situation was occurring that precipitated the need for such items as the following:
        If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.—Cardinal Richelieu
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.—H. L. Mencken
Never explain; your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway.—Elbert Hubbard
Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.—Nikita Khrushchev
He has been called a mediocre man; but this is unwarranted flattery. He was a politician of monumental littleness.—Theodore Roosevelt (speaking of President John Tyler)
In order to act, you must be somewhat insane. A reasonably sensible man is satisfied with thinking.—Georges Clemenceau
It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.—H. L. Mencken
There is no credit in being a comedian, when you have the whole Government working for you. All you have to do is to report the facts. I don’t even have to exaggerate.—Will Rogers (in 1935)
I didn’t say that I didn’t say it. I said that I didn’t say that I said it. I want to make that very clear.—George Romney
You have to pursue the ideals of a Joan of Arc with the political prowess of an Adam Clayton Powell. Whatever you say about Joan, her purpose was noble. And whatever you say about Adam, his politics is effective; it gets things done he wants done.—Bill Moyers (in 1965)
Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.—John Adams

You wonder what was happening to the Member that he needed that John Adams quote—and indeed, what happened to Adams the day he said it! But for every frustration that served up the bitter remarks above, the CRR Quote File reveals marvelous statements of the American purpose like those that follow. The first, incidentally, is the quotation the Congressional Reading Room staff reports is the one most frequently supplied at the present time:
        Senator Hubert H. Humphrey at the dedication of the Humphrey Building in 1977: “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life—the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
George Washington, speaking as the presiding officer of the first Continental Congress, 1787: “It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.”
Adlai Stevenson in 1952: “When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect.”
Walter Lippmann in 1955: “Yet this corporate being, though so insubstantial to our senses, binds, in Burke’s words, a man to his country with ‘ties which though light as air, are as strong as links of iron.’ That is why young men die in battle for their country’s sake and why old men plant trees they will never sit under.”
Benjamin Franklin in 1789: “God grant, that not only the Love of Liberty, but a thorough knowledge of the Rights of Man, may pervade all the Nations of the Earth, so that a Philosopher may set his Foot Anywhere on its Surface, and say, ‘This is my Country.’”
Carl Sandburg speaking of Abraham Lincoln before a joint session of the Congress: “Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, and who is as hard as rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect.”

There are a surprisingly large number of Americanisms which never passed the lips of those to whom they are attributed. How this manages to occur is always slightly inexplicable. The words do indeed strike a chord of truth with many of their audiences (regardless of who said them first), but without the cachet of the national figure, lose some of their impact in the dialogue. Some, like the following Mark Twain, are essentially trivial and little is lost without the imprimatur.
        “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
No Twain scholar has even been able to find that Twain said this. The Twain Museums in Maine and Connecticut cannot identify it, nor can the Twain Papers staff at Berkeley find it in anything he wrote. It is frequently traced back to a Reader’s Digest item of September 1937.
  But of much greater significance is the problem of Lincoln’s Ten Points. The familiar
        1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
2. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. (et cetera; the full list appears as quotation No. 1117)
has never been connected to a known Lincoln writing or statement. Lincoln scholars all over the country have been pursuing these maxims for three decades now, but have never found the list earlier than the 1940s when it was printed in various advertisements and on motto cards.
  Indeed, the mottoes and broadside printings seem to reinforce each other as one author passes a quotation on from his predecessor. The more impressive the presswork, the more legitimate we assume the source to be. The familiar “Desiderata” seems to be a classic example of this. (“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste … be cheerful. Strive to be happy …” The full text appears as quotation No. 1114.) This was, in fact, written by Max Ehrmann and published in 1927. But the story of its antecedents has acquired a drama all its own. In trying to trace its history, the Congressional Reading Room researchers found the following:
        In 1956, the rector of St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore used the poem in a collection of mimeographed inspirational material for his congregation. Someone printing it later said it was found in Old St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore, dated 1692. The year 1692 is the founding date of the church and has nothing to do with the poem, which was written in 1927. It was widely distributed with the 1692 date. A copy of it was found on the bedside table in Adlai Stevenson’s New York apartment after his death in 1965. He has been planning to use it on his Christmas cards, identifying it as an ancient poem.
Lincoln’s “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time …” (No. 609) has never been verified; Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake” (No. 1347) is considered spurious; and there are many quotations which are quite accurate—but were in fact said by someone else:
        Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing
was first said by Red Sanders at Vanderbilt around 1948, and, surprisingly, Vince Lombardi always stated he had not said it at all.
        It is better that one hundred guilty Persons escape than one innocent Person should suffer
was used by Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s, not begun by Justice Holmes or Brandeis.
        Politics is the art of the possible
was first said by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, not Mr. Dooley.
        many things in life that are not fair
was indeed said by Jimmy Carter, but John F. Kennedy had said, “life is unfair” fifteen years earlier.
  And do you recognize the following?
        Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in the desert.—Kahlil Gibran, written in Arabic after the First World War
Finally, scattered among the 2100 quotations that accumulated in the file, there are several the CRS has been unable to prove one way or the other, and they are deliberately included in this collection—labelled as unverified—in the hope that some reader will be able to fasten them to a source. An amusing example of one of these is the following, written by Leonard Harman Robbins:
        How a minority
Reaching a majority
Seizing authority
Hates a minority!
Have you seen it in print? Send the citation to the Congressional Reading Room at the Library!

As might be expected, the fifty-year accumulation has acquired many hundreds of thoughts on how to govern effectively. They run from humorous irony to sensitive truths. A sample of the spectrum:
        The great art of governing consists in not letting men grow old in their jobs.—Napoleon Bonaparte
There is no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets.—Fiorello La Guardia
“My country, right or wrong,” is a thing no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”—G. K. Chesterton
A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.—George Bernard Shaw
Take things always by their smooth handle.—Thomas Jefferson
Human nature being what it is, all men prefer a false promise to a flat refusal. At the worst the man to whom you have lied may be angry. That risk, if you make a promise, is uncertain and deferred, and it affects only a few. But if you refuse you are sure to offend many, and that at once.—Quintus Tullius Cicero
Harold Cox tells a story of his life as a young man in India. He quoted some statistics to a Judge, an Englishman and a very good fellow. His friend said, “Cox, when you are a bit older, you will not quote Indian statistics with that assurance. The Government are very keen on amassing statistics—they collect them, add them, raise them to the nth power, take the cube root and prepare wonderful diagrams. But what you must never forget is that every one of those figures comes in the first instance from the chowty dar [village watchman], who just puts down what he damn pleases.—Josiah Stamp (in 1929)
There is no merit in putting off a war for a year if, when it comes, it is far worse or one much harder to win.—Winston Churchill
We think that for a general to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy.—G. K. Chesterton
If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known, that we are at all times ready for War.—George Washington
The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it, but whether it have more of evil, than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost every thing, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.—Abraham Lincoln (in the House of Representatives, 1848)

It is both fitting and proper that Congress should be so sensitive to words that their inquiries about precise speech have produced the rich reservoir we find here. This collection of “perfect words” celebrates the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Legislature. This is singularly appropriate, since throughout the life of the nation, the Congress has been the temple of great oratory in our country led by such figures as Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Lincoln, the Breckinridges, Borah, and La Follette. The Members through the years have carried the double role of expressing the views of their personal constituencies and of distilling the national issues, choices, and concerns. To hear these speeches was, as Rufus Choate said about Daniel Webster’s, to hear “a national consciousness—a national era, a mood, a hope, a dread, a despair—in which you listen to the spoken history of the time.”
  Political oratory is an honorable art, which has made the practice of democracy work for two centuries. But it has changed rather dramatically during those years. Its purposes have remained the same, but the rules and practices have shifted sharply in our own time.  13
  The scholars tell us that what came to be known as political oratory stemmed from the speaking style of the eighteenth-century American pulpit. The cadences of John Calvin, John Knox, and Martin Luther were read out by early divines, and then built on by the passionate preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Francis Asbury. The golden age of Revolutionary oratory started with Patrick Henry and James Otis twenty years before the War itself, and flowed toward the high water mark of political speech up to the outbreak of the Civil War—the days of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster. All of these had a florid grandeur which could hold the attention of a hall of people with persuasive eloquence. We read of incredibly long addresses successfully presented under what to us sound like impossible conditions. Webster’s impassioned reply to Haynes—which still reads with excitement to this day—was given for three hours of extemporaneous analysis, and then the Senator, noting that most of his audience had been standing through the dinner hour, suggested that they all return the next day—when he talked for three more hours to complete his thought. Senator Edward Everett talked to a standing audience for one hour and fifty-seven minutes from a wind-swept platform at Gettysburg—after having rehearsed the same memorized speech the day before to test his time and to practice the level of shouting necessary to be heard across the field.  14
  Each of these great speakers has unusual mannerisms that were a part of his style and image. Contemporaries describe Lincoln’s voice at Gettysburg as metallic, “clear, ringing, very penetrating and it reached everybody on the outskirts of the throng.” In his earlier speeches, Lincoln used the traditional oratorical device of letting his voice sink very low and then rising as he made his points—accompanied by dramatic gestures. By the time he was president, he stood very quietly and rarely moved his hands at all. (Lincoln had several eccentricities of pronunciation that attracted attention at the time: he always said “America” as if it were spelled “Amerikay,” “chairman” was “cheerman,” and when he spoke in the House he attracted attention by saying all his “tos” as “toes.” When he gave his first speech in the House, he wrote home to Herndon, “I find speaking here and elsewhere almost the same thing. I was about as badly scared and no more than when I speak in court.”)  15
  Webster could speak for hours at such a pitch that his voice filled the Senate and newsmen complained that no one could conduct side conversations, even in the galleries.  16
  Patrick Henry is described as always starting out as if he were ill, unprepared, and had not intended to speak on the occasion, but as he talked his voice rose, the tempo increased, so that by the time he had reached the important matter, his words were pouring out like a “torrent of strong, ringing sentences and pictorial paragraphs, words tumbling over words like a cataract … he would storm and persuade, berate and beg, threaten and cajole, argue and amuse, convince and convulse,” totally dominating both the room and the occasion.  17
  According to Edgar Dewitt Jones, Henry Clay’s voice “was sweet and soft, as a mother’s to her babe. It could be made to float into the chambers of the air, as gently as descending snowflakes on the sea; and again it shook the Senate, strong, brain-shaking, filling the air with its absolute thunder.” It is frightening to consider what these giants could have done with a public address system.  18
  But it seems to have been the appearance of the electrical devices that clipped the length of political discourse and lowered the histrionics. Amplification in halls reduced the need for over-sized gestures; radio and the motion picture newsreel pulled the listener close to the speaker so it became in both of their eyes a person-to-person dialogue. But as important as any aspect of the oratorical tradition was the effect of such twentieth-century figures as Hitler and Mussolini who brought oratory into disrepute by using the device to whip their audiences into emotional frenzies. By the time television arrived, political dialogues demanded a me-and-thee style, low-keyed and distilled to a twenty-minute maximum—which in turn would be reduced to sixty seconds on the evening news. Even formal speeches on the floors of the legislature now tend toward the conversational, “sincere,” “thinking-on-their-feet” style of delivery.  19
  This is where the quotation continues to prove its worth. At first, citations to the great classical thinkers were called on to affirm the validity of the oratorical assertions. Then the quotations began to be used to provide humor and variety to long stretches of narrative. Now, with the style more intimate and the length diminished, the quotations become a form of shorthand, a distillation of a grander—longer—thought. The only difficulty is that today’s audiences bring a much narrower set of mental references to the hall than did those of a few generations back. Reference to the Greek and Roman authors are almost useless, Biblical allusions are increasingly less effective, literary quotations carry ever more limited images. Motion picture and television references seem to generate the broadest recognition from the audience—but their half-lives seem barely to last through a thirteen-week season. In short, the challenge of the modern political speaker has never been greater. We would hope the attached storehouse will therefore be doubly useful.  20

Note should be taken of the great classic texts, the congressional folklore of certain speeches that have become so much a part of congressional tradition that to long-standing members of the two houses only the words “Senator Vest and his dog” are needed to bring smiles of recognition and delight. The text of Senator Vest’s eulogy is found as Quotation No. 446. Here he rises to the final peroration:
        And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace, and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.
  In no way to be outdone is Adlai Stevenson’s “Cat Bill Veto” (No. 163). Here he concludes his negation of a cat leash law with the judgment:
        The problem of cat versus bird is as old as time. If we attempt to resolve it by legislation who knows but what we may be called upon to take sides as well in the age old problems of dog versus cat, bird versus bird, or even bird versus worm. In my opinion, the State of Illinois and its local governing bodies already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency.
  In the same vein of rich, congressional oratory, you find Senator John Sharp Williams’s “Mocking Bird Speech” as he contemplates returning to his beloved Mississippi at the end of twenty-eight years on Capitol Hill. With the full text appearing as Quotation No. 295, he concludes:
        And as night and the time for bed approaches, I will listen to the greatest chorus of voices that man ever heard, music that will charm me and make me ready for repose—the voices of my mocking birds, trilling from the trees. In that way I want to live the rest of my life. And when the end comes, I hope to be carried out of the house by my neighbors and laid to rest among my people.
  Congressman Billy Matthews’s report of a Member’s reply to a constituent’s query, “Where do you stand on whiskey?” appears as Quotation No. 38.
        If, when you say whiskey you mean the Devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty [he goes on for 42 more words], then certainly I am against it with all of my power.
  But, if, when you say whiskey, you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine … that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips … Christmas cheer … the drink that enables a man to magnify his joy and his happiness and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and the heartbreaks and sorrows [ultimately 140 laudatory words], then certainly I am in favor of it.

As can be seen from the above, while these quotations were primarily used on political occasions and in public meetings, the topics run far more broadly than the simple aspects of governing. The war between the sexes is well represented, while some of the most unlikely topics appear among those requested for verification and attribution. Again, a sample:
        Men marry because they are tired;
Women because they are curious.
Both are disappointed.—Oscar Wilde
  Also Wilde:
        One should never trust a woman who tells you her real age. A woman who would tell one that would tell one anything.
  Benjamin Franklin answers a letter to the editor:
        I am about courting a girl I have had but little acquaintance with. How shall I come to a knowledge of her faults, and whether she has the virtues I imagine she has?
Answer: Commend her among her female acquaintances.
  A reflective Mark Twain:
        We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that a savage has, because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we gained by prying into the matter.
  Whenever possible, the CRS researchers have attempted to express the context in which a quotation is found. Through the years this has served to protect an inquiring Congressman from using a quotation where the context would be antithetical to his own views or purpose, or it frequently enriches the more familiar part of the quote. Several examples of these “broader citations” have been noted above; the following is a charming, if not particularly significant elaboration:
        When I die, my epitaph or whatever you call those signs on gravestones is going to read: “I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I dident like.” I am so proud of that I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved. And when you come to my grave you will find me sitting there, proudly reading it.—Will Rogers
  Incidentally, apropos only of the sameness of things, there is an unlikely set of headlines a Member heard described which, when finally run down, turned out to be a skit from a French theater piece written in 1815:
        What news? Ma foi!
The tiger has broken out of his den.
The monster was three days at sea.
The wretch has landed at Frejus.
The brigand has arrived at Antibes.
The invader has reached Grenoble.
The General has entered Lyons.
Napoleon slept last night at Fontainbleau.
The Emperor proceeds to the Tuileries today.
His Imperial Majesty will address his loyal subjects tomorrow.
  Or Disraeli reporting to the Commons in 1864 on the latest international conference:
        The Conference lasted six weeks. It wasted six weeks. It lasted as long as a Carnival, and, like a Carnival, it was an affair of masks and mystification. Our Ministers went to it as men in distressed circumstances go to a place of amusement—to while away the time, with a consciousness of impending failure.

In conclusion, you might be amused by a quick quiz of some fragments from the CRR quote trays. How many of these can you recall “who said and in what context?”
        “like two scorpions in a bottle”[Robert Oppenheimer, No. 237]
“till a shrimp learns to whistle”[Nikita Khrushchev, No. 244]
“not one cent for scenery”[Joseph Cannon, No. 308]
“the moral equivalent of war”[William James, No. 526]
“lives of quiet desperation”[Henry David Thoreau, No. 1124]
“the silent majority”[Richard Nixon, No. 1140]
“Have you no sense of decency, sir …”[Joseph Welch, No. 1171]
“Catch-22”[Joseph Heller, No. 1179]
“electrical energy too cheap to meter”[Lewis Strauss, No. 1256]
“nail a drop of water to the wall”[George Danielson, No. 1394].
“a splendid misery”[Thomas Jefferson, No. 1493]
“The Eagle has landed”[Neil Armstrong, No. 1737]
“Because it’s there”[George Mallory, No. 1741]
“dooth with youre owene thyng”[Geoffrey Chaucer, No. 447]

Assistant Director, Congressional Research Service

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