Possibly spurious Samuel Adams quotation [RBBernstein]

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Oct 7 16:31:16 UTC 2013

The earliest quotation for "brush-fire/brushfire" in the OED is 1850.

The earliest quotation for "irate" in the OED is 1838.  (Surprised me.)

'Nuff said?
I imagine the researchers have already found this
passage from William Bunch, "The backlash :
right-wing radicals, hi-def hucksters, and
paranoid politics in the age of Obama" (2010); preview from Google Books:

"The quote is also completely bogus---apparently
an indirect effort at a paraphrase from a 1987
article in Parade magazine that somehow wrongly
morphed into a direct quotation from Adams over
the years, even though the source, tellingly, is
never cited. (In fact, the word "irate" was not
common usage in the 1770s', and the term "brush
fire" was not popularized until the twentieth
century.) Now here's something that Adams really
did say: "Facts are stubborn things."
"Keen on"  seems possible, although "on"
specifically perhaps is unusual (see below for "keen upon").

The OED has "keen, adj." in sense 6.a., "a. Of
persons: Eager, ardent, fervid; full of, or
manifesting, intense desire, interest,
excitement, etc. Also, of desire, feeling, etc.:
Intense." dating from the late 1300s.  A quotation close to Adams' time:
1776   A. Smith Inq. Wealth of Nations I. i. i.
11   When he first begins the new work he is seldom very keen and hearty.

The OED also has 6.b, "Const. about, against, at,
for, ┬ćof, or with inf.; also colloq. on (upon):
interested in; also, sweet on, in love with".  No
quotations specifically with "on" until 1889, but
the following from the early 18th century:

1711   E. Budgell Spectator No. 116. 4   Sir Roger is so keen at this Sport.
1714   Swift Some Free Thoughts upon Present
State Affairs (1741) 12   Men were not so keen upon coming in themselves.


At 10/7/2013 09:06 AM, John Saillant wrote:
>A quotation is making its way through the Internet and through right-wing
>and conservative blogging.  It purports to be from Samuel Adams, but
>without any date or source affixed.  Here it is:
>"It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless
>minority, keen on setting brush fires of freedom in the minds of men."
>For some reason, this quotation feels phony to me.  I think it might be the
>combination of an adjectival phrase like "keen on" and the phrase "brush
>fires of freedom."  Those sound 20th-century or even 21st-century to me.
>Does anyone with expert knowledge of Samuel Adams have any light to shed on
>this matter?
>Respectfully submitted,
>R. B. Bernstein
>-- R. B. Bernstein * Distinguished Adjunct
>Professor of Law, New York Law School * Adjunct
>Professor of Political Science and History,
>Skadden, Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies,
>City College of New York, CUNY * Moderator and
>Member of Editorial Board, H-LAW * Member, Board
>of Directors, American Society for Legal History
>(2011-2014) * Author, THOMAS JEFFERSON (Oxford,
>2003; paperback, 2005) and THE FOUNDING FATHERS
>RECONSIDERED (Oxford, 2009; paperback, 2011) *
>rbbernstein at gmail.com, rbernstein at nyls.edu, rbernstein at ccny.cuny.edu

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