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Posts Put Words in Thomas Jefferson’s Mouth


Quick Take

Facebook posts in support of President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection erroneously claim that former President Thomas Jefferson once said “the government will one day be corrupt and filled with liars, and the people will flock to the one who tells the truth.” A Jefferson Library researcher includes it in a list of “spurious quotations.”


Full Story 

A popular meme posted repeatedly on Facebook wrongly attributes a quotation to former President Thomas Jefferson.

“The government will one day be corrupt and filled with liars, and the people will flock to the one who tells the truth,” reads the supposed quote, which has appeared on Twitter and YouTube, too.

We could find no evidence of the founding father and third U.S. president ever saying that — and those who study his legacy haven’t either.

The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, which is available through the website of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s Monticello estate, includes the supposed quote in a list of “spurious quotations.” Jefferson Library research librarian Anna Berkes wrote that “[t]his quotation has not been found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.” It appeared on Twitter in 2015, she noted, “but we have been unable to trace its existence before 2015.”

Fictitious Jefferson quotes aren’t new; Berkes published a blog post in 2011 to help people spot such “fakes.”

We’ve debunked many viral claims that misattribute statements to current and historical figures in order to make political points.

In this case, the meme uses the bogus Jefferson quote to make the case for President Donald Trump’s reelection, juxtaposing it with a photo of an apparent Trump rally and the word “TRUMP” and the year “2020.”

On one post, a commenter referred to Jefferson as a “visionary” and another said “[h]e hit the nail on the head very smart man.”

While the quote’s sentiment may resonate with Trump supporters, there’s no evidence to support the claim that Jefferson ever said it.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Berkes, Anna. “How to Spot a Fake.” Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. 22 Nov 2011.

The government will one day be corrupt (Spurious Quotation).” Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. 19 Nov 2018.

Thomas Jefferson.” WhiteHouse.gov. Accessed 14 Oct 2019.