Modified and Misquoted

Authors hate it when their writing is modified or misquoted.
One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Jefferson’s 1787 letter to William Stephens Smith.

330px-Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800)(cropped)“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” This sentence is often used to justify violence in connection with political positions. I find it amusing the following sentence is never included in the quote: “It is it’s natural manure.” Does equating blood with manure make the first sentence less noble?

330px-William-Tecumseh-ShermanGeneral William Sherman’s quote on war is simplified to “war is hell.” The full sentence is “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell. You can bear this warning voice to generations yet to come.”



270px-Leo_Durocher_1948Leo Durocher’s baseball quote is usually given as “Nice guys finish last.” The actual quote is “Nice guys actually finish seventh” or “Take a look at them. All nice guys. They’ll finish last. Nice guys – finish last.”


A rather bad misquote is from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The incorrect quote is “The devil is in the details.” The correct quote is “God is in the details.”

Lastly, a quote from English poet Violet Fane often stated as “Good things come to those who wait.” However, what she actually said was “All things come to he who waits (…) they come, but often come too late.”

The list goes on and on. Perhaps the culprit is the newspaper. Sherman is quoted as saying, “I think I know what military fame is; to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers.” Walt Whitman in letter to his mother during the Civil War. “The fighting has been hard enough, but the papers make lots of additional items, and a good deal they just entirely make up.


About Allen Mesch

Allen is an author, educator, and historian. He has written six books: The Analyst; Teacher of Civil War Generals; Your Affectionate Father, Charles F. Smith; Charles A. Marvin - "One Year. Six Months, and Eleven Days", Preparing for Disunion, and Ebenezer Allen - Statesman, Entrepreneur, and Spy. He taught classes on the American Civil War at Collin College. He has visited more than 130 Civil War sites and given presentations at Civil War Roundtables.
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