Farah’s Sad Attempt at Being Intellectually Honest

I wrote the other day about Worldnetdaily owner Joseph Farah using a fictitious quote from James Madison in a column about how America has split with God. It’s a quote that you see all over Christian right websites, but even David Barton admits it has never been found anywhere in Madison’s speeches or writings and that it was never “quoted” until 1939. Here’s the quote as he originally used it:

A quote from James Madison is very relevant here: “We have staked the whole future of the American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future … upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

He chose his words carefully, and they were accurate and to the point.

I left a comment documenting that it was a fake quote and they deleted it. I left a second comment, which they allowed out of moderation. But after more than a day, they hadn’t even acknowledged the problem. I sent an email directly to Farah, which finally seems to have prompted at least a lame attempt at what, for him, resembles honesty and integrity. He changed the text to say:

A quote that has been attributed to James Madison but not confirmed as such is relevant nevertheless: “We have staked the whole future of the American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future … upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

He simply cannot admit that the quote is fictitious despite all the evidence clearly pointing to that conclusion. Here is what Robert Alley, a distinguished historian whose work has largely focused on Madison, said about this quote in the William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Summer 1995, in which he attempted to track the source of the misquote:

In July, 1994, the organization Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) pointed out that Rush Limbaugh had incorrectly attributed to James Madison a quotation concerning the centrality of the Ten Commandments to “American civilization.” Quickly rising to Limbaugh’s defense were several California residents who wrote letters to the Los Angeles Times. One writer prefaced the alleged quotation with the following: “Here (as quoted in The Myth of Separation by David Barton) is precisely what Madison said.” The bogus quote followed: “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far From it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” What the writer, Rick Crowell, did not tell us was that Barton cited as his only sources for those words two twentieth century writers, Harold K. Lane in Liberty! Cry Liberty!, and Frederick Nyneyer in First Principles in Morality and Economics: Neighborly Love and Ricardo’s Law of Association.

Responding to the public hubbub, editors of The Papers of James Madison, John Stagg and David Mattern, referred all inquirers to a letter dated November 23, 1993, in which Mr. Mattern wrote concerning the alleged quotation: “We did not find anything in our files remotely like the sentiment expressed in the extract you sent us. In addition, the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison’s views on religion and government, views which he expressed time and time again in public and in private.”(250) This expert response has not dampened the ardor of those who privately would have Madison affirm their own distorted version of American history. Crowell accused Mr. Mattem of “revisionism at its worst.” I offer here a reconstruction of the convoluted trek of the words in question.

In citing David Barton’s The Myth of Separation as the source, Mr. Crowell apparently missed the fact that Barton did not include the words, “of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government.” In a video tape Barton inserts “of all our political institutions” but still omits the “capacity of mankind.” This video version was read into the Congressional Record by Representative Dannemeyer on October 7, 1992.

Barton’s sources are two, or three, depending upon how you sort out his confusion. Apart from citing the Lane volume of 1939, he offers as his other source Frederick Nyneyer’s First Principles in Morality and Economics; Neighborly Love and Ricardo’s Law of Association. In fact, his source appears to be an article entitled “Neighborly Love and Ricardo ‘s Law of Association”. Far from appearing in a source by Nyneyer, the alleged quote is found in the latter article and drawn “[f]rom the 1958 calendar of Spiritual Mobilization.” Barton’s attempted documentation becomes exponentially more curious. He seems to have no clue as to his sources. When approached about his mythical additions to Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, he deleted the references in a later edition of his tape…

Proving that a quotation does not exist is a daunting task. If you cannot find it in any extant manuscripts or collections of Madison’s works, just how does one prove it will not turn up in someone’s attic tomorrow? Of course you cannot. That is why the Madison editors were careful in how they phrased their response. But, after all, it is incumbent solely upon the perpetrators of this myth to prove it by at least one citation. This they cannot do. Their style is not revisionism, it is anti-historical.

We likely have not heard the last of this nonsense, but it is important to press the new media frauds to document what they claim. Because they cannot do so in most instances, time may ultimately discredit the lot of them.

That was 20 years ago and Alley was right, we obviously have not heard the last of this nonsense. Despite Barton himself pulling the quotation from his update to The Myth of Separation and publishing on his website an admission that it has never been found anywhere in Madison’s writings and speeches, people like Farah continue to quote it over and over and over again. And even when called out for it, they still will not admit that it is fake. Why? Because it fits their narrative. It says what they wish Madison had said, therefore he must have said it.

But as Alley points out, the burden of proof is entirely on them here. They can prove me and all the Madison scholars wrong by merely finding the quote in original sources. We have volumes of Madison’s writings, speeches and letters and they are even available in a searchable format. If they can’t find it, the only intellectually honest thing to do is not to use the quote. But intellectual honesty is a foreign concept to them.

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  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Look, us Conservatives don’t have to be so-called “intellectually” so-called “honest”, since we’ve got the Truth on our side.

  • colnago80

    Considering the fact that Madison had very negative opinions about organized religion in general and Christianity in particular, it seems unlikely that he would have said any such thing.

  • John Pieret

    But it has truthiness because that’s what they would have said if they were Madison and Madison didn’t believe in a secular government. That’s close enough for Christians.

  • some bastard on the internet

    A half-… no, tenth-assed attempt at a retraction. Frankly, I’m a little surprised you got that much out of him.

    Of course, one does have to point out the centerpiece of the article (literally, it’s right in the middle of it!):

    Experience more of Joseph Farah’s no-nonsense truth-telling in his books, audio and video products, featured in the WND Superstore

    It’s not news, it’s the World Net Daily!

  • http://rationalrant.blogspot.com/ sbh

    What Madison wrote (Federalist Papers XXXIX) was:

    The first question that offers itself is, whether the general form and aspect of the government be strictly republican? It is evident that no other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the revolution; or with that honourable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self government. If the plan of the convention, therefore, be found to depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as no longer defensible.

    In the early 1950s Clarence Manion reinterpreted Madison’s reference to “the capacity of mankind for self government” to mean not the ability of the people to govern themselves as in Madison, but the ability of a person to control his own actions in accord with some external moral code. In his book The Key to Peace he gives the passage correctly, but when he delivered it in speech form he varied Madison’s words considerably. Here is an example from 1950:

    The Founding Fathers of the American Republic remembered this when they wrote our Declaration of Independence, and The First American state and Federal Constitution. As soon as these documents had been promulgated, one of the most erudite of the Founding Fathers, James Madison, said that “we have staked the whole future of our American Political Institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self government”. He meant the Constitutional freedom of the American citizen will last just so long and only so long as that citizen keeps the capacity to govern himself according to the moral and legal standards of personal conduct that run through the Christian era all the way back to the time of Moses. [Cleveland Bar Association Journal, 1950, page 21]

    A 1954 version ran:

    We have staked the whole future of American civilization not upon the power of government, far from it, but upon the capacity of mankind for self-government.

    In 1958 Frederick Nymeyer used it as column-filler on p. 31 of Progressive Calvinism: Neighborly Love and Ricardo’s Law of Association, January 1958:

    We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government: upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.

    He apparently got it from the 1958 calendar of Spiritual Regeneration. It was later picked up by Rousas John Rushdoony in 1973 (The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 541), Jerry Falwell in 1980 (Listen America!, p. 51), and William J. Federer in 1994 (America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, p. 411).

  • Larry

    A quote that has been attributed to James Madison but not confirmed as such is relevant nevertheless:

    How is it relevant? Its a bunch of words whose origin cannot be traced to Madison or any other founding father. You could make up all sorts of quotes, attribute them to anyone with substantiation, and call it relevant.

  • llewelly

    few things are more relevant to WND than fake quotes.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    I can be a WND journalist too:


    “I am a big poopy.” ~ Joseph Farah

  • raven

    If their religion was true, they wouldn’t have to lie all the time!!!

    Is there a fundie xian leader that isn’t a prolific serial liar?

    Maybe but I can’t think of one. Michele Bachmann, Rick Wiles, Ted Cruz, Rick Satanorum, Hagee, Hovind, the Dishonesty Institute, creationism, climate change denial, Barton, Farah, etc.

    Xianity is just modern lies piled on the ancient lies of the bible in a religion led by…liars.

    I’m an ex-xian because the truth matters to me.

  • raven

    How is it relevant?

    World Nuts Daily is an endless collection of lies.

    It’s relevant because if Farah et al. didn’t lie, they would have absolutely nothing to say.

    Besides, Farah et al. get paid for lying. It’s just business. And highly profitable. Even a B list fundie liar can be worth 100’s of millions of dollars. Robertson is a billionaire. Glenn Beck has recently made ca. $100 million.

    I have no idea what Farah makes from lying but it is likely more in a few years than the average American makes in a lifetime.

  • brewlord

    I got into a similar argument with an old Navy buddy on FB the other day about a Washington quote he was using to support his pro gun nut stance. It proved to be fake.I informed him and got the response. “I don’t care, I like it” I explained that it was intellectually dishonest to no avail.Other posters then informed me the fact that it was fake didn’t matter,as long as it felt true enough .Colbert would be proud

  • blf

    “The other day, I made an acquaintance with a person previously unknown to me, a Mr Joseph Farah, a most agreeable and friendly, if perhaps strong-willed gentlemen, who, after hearing my introductions and exchanging greetings, proceeded to ejaculate at great length and considerable volume, directly into my face, bellowing about several ‘important issues’, as he claimed, of the current times. Sadly I had never heard of any of these issues and cannot fathom the importance, or indeed in what times Mr Farah lives, or imagines that he lives, or perhaps desires to live, other than it seems to involve a considerable amount of fantastical leaps of logic, ignorance of even the most base of facts, and an impressive volume of spittle. One of these great and weighty concerns is a ‘Benghazi’, which seems to be a breed of Arabian horse, or perhaps a cannon drawn by some of those indeed astonishing creatures, and fired by a team of people known as ‘Kenyan’ specially trained by deeply knowable experts in bombardment, going by names such as ‘Gay’ and ‘Feminassi’ or other identities with which I am unfamiliar but on with Mr Farah is such an expert he has the common expert’s curse of supposing everything he says is understood by the listener, and that he must be correct.”

      — James Madison

  • Georgia Sam

    I like what Abraham Lincoln said on this topic: “Many of the quotes one sees in e-mail and on the Internet were never spoken or written by the person to whom they are attributed.”

  • thebookofdave

    And now Joe Farah takes his place in a long and steadily growing chain of bogus sources for founding fathers quotes. I wonder how long we will have to wait for the next Christian historical fabricationist to cite his work?

  • freehand

    Like all RWNJ, Mr. Farrah thinks that political, historical, economic, and even science arguments are of the same sort as a dysfunctional family argument about who takes out the trash that night. As long as Farrah doesn’t admit defeat, he hasn’t lost the argument. Reality is entirely a social construct, and his identity depends not on how he determines truth, or his basic values, but rather which particular beliefs he holds. One can’t get into Heaven if one believes the Earth is more than a few thousand years old; one cannot be patriotic and still treat Muslims like people, and one cannot speak truth on important matters without the authority of a Great Elder Prophet saying them first.


    So if Madison didn’t say these things, he should have, so he did. Farrah is just interpreting the facts, like a great scientist would. (Facts are just rhetorical devices, yes?)