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Fact check: Fake quote about right to bear arms attributed to George Washington

Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY
·3 min read
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The claim: George Washington advocated for insurrection over right to bear arms

A Facebook post from 2015 featuring a quote attributed to the nation's first president recently went viral.

Posted without a caption on Dec. 14, 2015, the post is a meme with a portrait of President George Washington with a quote about the right to bear arms in text overlay.

"When government takes away citizens' right to bear arms it becomes citizens' duty to take away government's right to govern," the quote states. The post was shared over 5,800 times.

A single comment on the post, from five years ago, states "AMEN!"

USA TODAY reached out to the poster for comment.

The claim is one of several versions using the Founding Father's likeness to advocate for the right to bear arms. Others include this Instagram post from May 31 and another from Nov. 17.

While there is evidence that Washington promoted domestic arms manufacturing to avoid shortages in the event of a national emergency, the former president stopped short of endorsing insurrection against the government.

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What did Washington really say about the right to bear arms?

The quote from the claim is one of many spurious quotations attributed to Washington, according to The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, Washington's Virginia estate.

An explanation for the quote, or a similar one confused for it, has not been found, per a statement on the library's website.

"What we believe people are basing it on is the passage from Washington’s First Inaugural Address but you can see it’s taken way out of context," Matt Briney, vice president of media and communications for Mount Vernon, told USA TODAY.

According to Briney, the full quote from the Jan. 8, 1790, address states: "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 of others for essential, particularly military, supplies."

Washington fully supported a strong national defense against foreign enemies, per the library's website. But there is no reference to citizens' duty to take away the government's right to govern if the right to bear arms — described in the Second Amendment of the Constitution as part of a well-regulated militia — is denied.

Edward Lengel, editor in chief of the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia, told PolitiFact in 2015 that he's "as certain as he can be" that Washington never spoke the words from the Facebook claim.

"There is no evidence that Washington ever wrote or said these words, or any like them," Lengel said.

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Our ruling: False

We rate this claim FALSE, based on our research. A Facebook claim attributes a fake quote about citizens' rights to take away control from the government over the right to bear arms to George Washington. The nation's first president never spoke the words, according to scholars.

Our fact-check sources:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: George Washington quote on right to bear arms is fake