by Thomas McMahon
American Reporter Reader
July 5, 2006
THAT'S ZINN, NOT JEFFERSON
DENVER -- You carried a compelling quote in an article on July 4 ("This Independence Day, Live It Like You Mean it," by Ed Tubbs) that you attributed to Thomas Jefferson.
Therein lies a tale. Here is the quote:
"And now, Mr. Jefferson: ... 'Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.'"
Except Jefferson didn't say that. I know that for a fact.
You see, I used to have that quote at the top of my website, then after about a year a right-wing radio talk show host in Denver went on a rant about how traitors like me were putting treasonous words in his mouth. I was mail-bombed with hate mail by his readers, so I checked Google to find the source of the quote. There were some 8,000 results, and I spent days going through them all, and found nothing. So, I contacted the library at Montecello, who has all his words on a computer for easy searching, and they couldn't find anything. I contacted Clay Jenkinson, host of PBS' Thomas Jefferson Hour, where he takes on the persona of Jefferson (and has memorized everything ever written by the man), and he said it must be a myth, because he'd never read it.
So, I replaced the quote with another by Jefferson: "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." [Editor's note: Thomas Jefferson didn't say that, either. The phrase was from a sermon by an 18th-Century preacher, Wendell Phillips.]
About six months later, a reader tracked down the origin of the quote. It was on off-the-cuff comment by Howard Zinn in an interview with ThomasPaine.com, on May 7, 2004. He received such positive feedback on it that he rewrote the foreword to his about-to-be-released book to include it. A reviewer quoted that, then said "Thomas Jefferson also said...", and apparently someone misread that to mean Jefferson was responsible for the previous quote.
You wouldn't believe how often I've had to explain this to people.
Visit the author at ThomasMc.com.