No, George Washington Doesn't Want You Armed Against the Government: E-Mail Debunking Part II

No, George Washington Doesn't Want You Armed Against the Government: E-Mail Debunking Part II

This little infographic has been making the rounds on Facebook among the more pro-gun people... especially a certain kind of pro-gun people. See, there are hunters, there are people who want to own guns for home protection and there are people who want to own guns simply because they are adults who have the right to and there's no reason they shouldn't -- which is the only reason that makes any real sense.

Then there are people who honestly believe that they need to be armed in case the government comes after them. This standpoint is a little baffling, since in general people who decide to stand up to the government with a firearm usually end up as a stain, but whatever. I believe in the Loch Ness Monster and some people think that's unlikely.

To each his own, but here in the age of the Internet when the entire wealth of human knowledge is available for free at all times, there is simply no excuse for one kind of indulgence. Namely, the misquoting or misattribution of quotes to the dead who can't defend themselves. We can't let people co-opt founding fathers willy and/or nilly, otherwise it grants unlimited license to justify points with falsehood.

Stop twisting his words
Stop twisting his words

First off, here's the quote being used...

A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government

Since even Wikiquote lists this under the misattributed section of Washington's quotes there's no excuse. Here's the real quote...

A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end, a uniform and well digested plan is requisite: and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others for essential, particularly for military supplies.

That's from his first annual address to Congress on January 8, 1790. Reading through Washington's speech, it can clearly be seen that when Washington is talking about "a free people," he means the union as a whole should be well-prepared for any threat to the country. He wasn't talking about people being armed and ready to fight their own representatives.   In fact, Washington's viewpoint on what to do with armed American citizens who resist the government not through democracy but through armed rebellion would be driven home three years later. In 1791, a new tax had been levied on grain sold as whiskey as part of a plan by Alexander Hamilton to pay off the national debt. Farmers greatly resented this, even breaking out the old phrase "No taxation without representation."

In their defense, there were numerous attempts to protest the law through official means, but things got out of hand quickly when tax officials wound up tarred and feathered. Armed rebellion sprang up in 1794, and Washington personally led troops in the field in order to end the uprising. This is the only time in American history a sitting president has done so. The resistance quickly collapsed, Washington was widely regarded as having done the right thing and Thomas Jefferson repealed the tax in 1800 regardless.

How would George Washington feel about modern issues? That is impossible to know, and to guess is a dicey prospect at best. More and more people on both sides skew the viewpoints of the founding fathers, and treat them as if they were prophets handing out testaments rather than politicians writing laws. It's tempting to enlist them in your personal cause, but it's also the worst kind of theft. It's accepting the prestige of figures of legend without having earned it. It's something for nothing.

I got into a discussion with one of the posters of the initial graphic, and he argued with me that, "ITS THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS...AND TO ME?? THIS 'QUOTE'...WHOEVER SAID IT...IS RIGHT ON THE MONEY." I responded by taking his profile picture, adding my own thoughts -- "Anyone arming themselves against the government should ask the Branch Davidians how that turned out" -- signed his name and posted it to my wall. He was not amused. Neither, I think, would George Washington be.

In the end, when you use bogus quotes, misrepresentations or information from disreputable sources, all you're doing is making your position look like one that is held by idiots and liars. "Research before repost" should be your motto. If it's important enough to put on your timeline, it's important enough to Google.

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