DANIEL FELLER, a professor of history, is the editor/director that The records of Andrew Jackson at the college of Tennessee.
A heat from Andrew Jackson has been making the ring lately: “One guy with courage makes a majority.” This aphorism is today known as Jackson’s most famous saying. The adorns T-shirts, mugs and also posters. The ACLU and also the Christian Coalition invoke it. Politicians repeat the endlessly, including, recently, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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But go Jackson really say it? Curiously, although everyone has heard the quoted indigenous him and also therefore “knows” the he said it, no one have the right to pinpoint when or where. Bartlett’s familiar Quotations, a standard source, characteristics it come Jackson without specify name time or place. Still more curiously, this memorable phrase shows up in no biography of Jackson or background of his era. Absolutely Jackson’s many splendid biographers would certainly not have actually let a gem like this slip past them.

Yet they never ever quoted it. In fact, the idea that Jackson coined the expression did not surface until he had actually been dead for plenty of years.

Here at The files of Andrew Jackson at the college of Tennessee, we collect and publish copies of every authenticated Jackson writing and also utterance. We have nothing to corroborate his authorship that this line. Although it is impossible to prove the someone did no say something, there is no proof of any type of kind to present that Jackson did to speak the line. So exactly how did Jackson’s paternity occupational itself into our minds? The answer is a classic instance of how historic errors arise. In 1860, author James Parton published a three-volume “Life that Andrew Jackson.” extensively researched and vividly written, Parton’s book became the typical biography for his generation. Historians consult it come this day.


On the title page of each volume, Parton placed the epigraph “Desperate Courage makes One a Majority.” that framed it within quotation marks but not in any means to imply that Jackson himself had actually said it. In fact, Parton did not typical it as a compliment, and also Jackson, were he lively to view it, absolutely would not have actually taken it together such. Parton did no admire Jackson. He believed him a headstrong ignoramus whose desperate ship overrode other men’s an excellent sense.

Yet somehow, in the food of limitless repetition, this censorious comment around Jackson was prettied up and also attributed to Jackson. The procedure was well underway by the 1930s and also complete through the end of the 1950s.

In 1968, Jackson’s authorship make it right into Bartlett’s, anchored as truth for generations to come.

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There is a lesson below that chroniclers know well. Human being love come attribute clever sayings to famous human being like Jackson and, especially, Abraham Lincoln. It is in skeptical. Go back to the original historical record. When a to mark quotation like this one mirrors up out of nowhere, there’s most likely something fishy going on.