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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. October 19, 2018

Bloggers spread false Patrick Henry quote on limited government

Did Patrick Henry, the patriot best known for saying, "Give me liberty or give me death," assert that, "The Constitution is not a document for the government to restrain the people: it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government"?

In a Facebook post, Sean O'Brien suggests that there are allegations that Henry never uttered those words, but he dismissed them. "There are people accusing me of this quote being fake. I can assure you, there is some evidence that Patrick Henry did say this, and if you want to call it fake, you’re really missing the actual message of it. Who said it isn’t as relevant as the message itself!!!"

The Oct. 2, 2018, post has been shared more than 43,000 times. The sentiment has also been used by politicians such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. It was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Readers are free to embrace the message, but to say Henry or any other famous person said something he didn't is an example of fake news. In this case, the attribution is designed to give a statement extra gravitas by attributing it to a founding father. So whether Henry said it or not is important.

When we asked O'Brien for evidence that Henry was the author, he quickly responded via Facebook Messenger that the only thing he could find was a reference at, which does not cite a source. "As to whether he actually said it, none of us were alive back in the 18th century to know for certain about this," he said.

The meme, complete with flawed punctuation, says it was created by, which didn't respond to an email asking for its source.

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Evidence that the quote is a fabrication has been around for years.

In 2012, Thomas S. Kidd, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and author of "Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots" said it as one of several bogus Henry quotes on the Internet. The earliest reference he could find at the time was from a pair of books published in 2003.

"Why create a bogus quotation when Henry actually said similar things about the need to restrain government?" Kidd wrote.

Since the essay, Kidd said in an email, "I still have never seen any information that would suggest that this is a legitimate Henry quote."   

Jon Kukla, historian and author of the 2017 book "Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty" and former director of Red Hill -- The Patrick Henry National Memorial in Charlotte County, Virginia, agreed via Facebook Messenger, "Regardless of sentiment — these words are NOT Patrick Henry's."

The "phrasing strikes me as very 20th century," he wrote. "And I'm afraid there are several more bogus Henry quotes floating in cyberspace along with bogus quotes from other founders. I have never understood why advocates of any cause stoop to inventing quotations? Wouldn't you want to know that your cause is true? How can you do that if you're making up fake quotations. It's beyond me."

We rate the claim as False.

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Bloggers spread false Patrick Henry quote on limited government

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