No, George Washington didn’t say a government that ‘mistrusts citizens with guns’ has ‘evil plans’

Memes of quotes by historical figures often go viral. Some are motivational, others serve political agendas. But not every quote was actually said by the person it’s attributed to.

One meme doing the rounds on Facebook has a quote attributed to George Washington, the first president of the US. It reads: “When any nation mistrusts its citizens with guns, it is sending a clear message. It no longer trusts its citizens because such a government has evil plans.” 

The meme shows a picture of Washington, making it seem credible. But we could find no evidence that Washington said the quote.

‘Spurious quotations’

The Washington library, based at Mount Vernon estate, Washington’s home, includes the quote in its list of spurious quotations falsely attributed to the former president.

Research staff at the library say the quote seemingly originates from an online publication, The American Wisdom Series presents Pamphlet #230, “President George Washington’s Thoughts on Firearms”.

The quote does appear in the pamphlet, as part of an introduction written by Joe Spenner. (Here it is has two grammatical errors in the first sentence: “When any, nation mistrusts it’s citizens with guns …”)

Below the introduction, Spenner directs readers to read attached comments about “The Role of Firearms” by Washington.

But even some of those “comments” are included in the Washington library’s list of spurious quotations. For example, the library says the quote “firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself,” does not show up in any of Washington’s writings, nor does any related quote.

In 2014, Barry Popik, a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary, also researched the quote about not trusting citizens with guns. Based on results from the Internet Archive, he estimated that it has been doing the rounds online since at least 2002. – Africa Check 


 

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”. What should you do? First, don't delete!

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Fighting coronavirus misinformation

Africa Check is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers fighting misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the alliance here.

© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.