A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry forthcoming—B.P. (10/22)
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Entry from November 12, 2009
“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force!”

George Washington is often quoted with this statement: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.” There is no record that George Washington ever said it.

James Fenimore Cooper called fire a “powerful servant but fearful master” in 1841. Kansas Senator John James Ingalls said “Government is force” in 1890. The full “George Washington” quotation appears in print by 1902.


Wikiquote: George Washington
George Washington (22 February 1732 – 14 December 1799) was the successful Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783, and later became the first President of the United States, an office to which he was elected, unanimously, twice and remained in from 1789 to 1797.
(...)
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.
. As quoted in The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest (1915) Edited by Upton Sinclair, p. 305. No earlier or original source for this often quoted statement is cited by Sinclair, or has yet been found in research done for Wikiquote.
. Unsourced variant : Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.

Google Books
The Deerslayer, or The First Warpath
By James Fenimore Cooper
Philadelphia, PA: Lea & Blanchard
1841
Pg. 110:
Around the house, by this time a decaying pile of logs, time had done a part of the work of the settler, and aided by that powerful servant but fearful master, fire, had given to the small clearing somewhat of the air of civilized cultivation.

27 November 1865, Telegraph (UT), “Precautionary,” pg. 2:
Fire is at all times a fearful master, and closely built towns and cities are eminently liable to be tyrannized over by that merciless master.

26 September 1880, New York (NY) Times, “Riches and Comfort,” pg. 6:
No sensible person depreciates money; it has an incalculable power of civilizing, humanizing, refining, or doing good in all directions. Like fire and passion, it is an excellent servant, but a fearful master.

20 May 1890, San Antonio (TX) Daily Light, pg. 14, col. 2:
SENATOR INGALLS
A Startling Innovation in the
Line of Interviewing.

TALK OF A REMARKABLE MAN.
(...)
The New York Sunday World has astonished its readers and illustrated the capabilities of modern journalism, assisted by instantaneous photography, by interviewing Senator John James Ingalls at once with the stenographer’s pencil and the artist’s camera.
(...) (Col. 3—ed.)
“The purification of politics is an iridescent dream. Government is force. Politics is a battle for supremacy. Parties are the armies. The decalogue and the golden rule have no place in a political campaign. The object is success. To defeat the antagonist and expel the party in power is the purpose.”

Google Books
6 June 1897, Sunday School Helper, pg. 279, col. 2:
Fire is a useful servant; but most fearful master.

Google Books
November 1902, The Christian Science Journal, “Liberty and Government” by W.M., pg. 465:
The first President of the United States said: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence,—it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant, and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”

Google Books
The Cry for Justice; an anthology of the literature of social protest;
The writings of philosophers, poets, novelists, social reformers, and others who have voiced the struggle against social injustice, selected from twenty-five languages, covering a period of five thousand years,

Edited by Upton Sinclair
Pasadena, CA; Upton SInclair
1915
Pg. 305:
Martyrdom
BY GEORGE WASHINGTON
(First president of the United States, 1732-1790)
GOVERNMENT is not reason, it is not eloquence—it is force! Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.

Google Books
15 March 1919, Cigar Makers’ Official Journal, pg. 11, col. 2:
Government is not reason; it is not eloquence—it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.—George Washington.

Google Books
Respectfully Quoted:
A dictionary of quotations

By Suzy Platt
New York, NY: Dorset Press
1992
Pg. 147 (Government):
754 Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.

Attributed to GEORGE WASHINGTON.—Frank J. Wilstach, A Dictionary of Similes, 2d ed., p. 526 (1924). This can be found with minor variations in wording and punctuation, and with “fearful” for “troublesome,” in George Seldes, The Great Quotations, p. 727 (1966). Unverified.

In his most recent book of quotations, The Great Thoughts (1985), Seldes says, p. 441, col. 2, footnote, this paragraph “although credited to the ‘Farewell’ [address] cannot be found in it. Lawson Hamblin, who owns a facsimile, and Horace Peck, America’s foremost authority on quotations, informed me this paragraph is apocryphal.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Thursday, November 12, 2009 • Permalink