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Postscript 14th April 2013. At the time of writing Wikipedia currently has it that Warren Harding coined the phrase “founding fathers”. And that he did so in a 1916 address:"
'Warren G. Harding, then a Republican Senator from Ohio, coined the phrase "Founding Fathers" in his keynote address to the 1916 Republican National Convention. He used it several times thereafter, most prominently in his 1921 inaugural address as President of the United States.'
However, we should expect Wikipedia to change this myth soon but fail to cite me as the originator of the brand new facts that the phrase was first coined in a newspaper story in a newspaper in 1895 and that Harding actually used the phrase at least a year earlier. As part of its drive to seek to improve its dreadful reputation for spreading myths and fallacies, Wikipedia is currently unethically engaged in deliberately and systematically plagiarizing the unique results of my original myth-busting work published solely here on Best Thinking, and then deliberately refusing to cite me as the originator of this brand new information that is busting decades old pervasive myths and fallacies and poor research. Wikipedia is editing-out myths and fallacies in its current text and inserting new and unique results - such as those discovered by my original and unique research, published here in this very article on Best Thinking. And yet when it does this Wikipedia pretends that its own editors discovered this new information. You can see what they are up to here, and read my arguments for why this is a socially toxic practice. Boycott plagiarism!
Academic Peer-to-Peer Article Research Note of 30th January (2013)
As with most of my other peer-to-peer articles and blog posts on my original myth busting endeavours, published here on BestThinking.com, the aim of this article is not to identify the original source of the myth. And I do not seek here to explain why these myths began and prevailed. Furthermore, it is not the aim of this paper to accurately enumerate the number of scholars who have disseminated the myth/s in question. Lastly, it is not the aim of this paper to bust other myths about Warren Harding – although I have discovered some more. All of those are future aims for future research endeavours. The aim of his paper is simply to prove that current knowledge about one particular area is fallacious and to report on the original busting of the myth.
Expert scholars of politics, journalists and other writers all appear to accept the universal ‘knowledge' claim that the 29th President of the USA, Warren Harding (1865 – 1923), has bragging rights to coining the phrase “founding fathers”. Moreover, until today the political experts and historians have been absolutely certain that Harding first used the phrase ‘founding fathers' in his speech at the sixteenth Republican National Convention in 1916. Of the many scholarly publications that unwittingly disseminate the Founded Founding Fathers Myth Lepore’s account (2010, p. 16) is not untypical:
‘ They weren’t even called the Founding Fathers until Warren G. Harding coined that phrase in his keynote address at the Republican National Convention in 1916.’
In this article I prove beyond doubt that both of these previously accepted cast iron 'facts' about (1) the coining of the exact phrase and (2) the date Harding first deployed the phrase are myths.
Firstly, the phrase 'founding fathers', although apparently little used before he used it, was not coined by Harding. We can know this by simply using the internet dating research technique - as I did to establish beyond doubt that the exact phrase 'founding fathers' was used in the Sunset newspaper in an article. The date of the edition containing that article proves that the phrase was used and published by others at least as far back as 1895. (May 1895, p. 108):
'The Coast Line of the railway connecting Los Angeles with San Francesco, conveniently, reaches the “Channel Missions” and as well, those to the north of them; in short it substantially follows the footsteps of pioneer and Mission founding fathers.’
The phrase has been used at least since as far back as May's 1895 article. :
That said, there is as yet no 100 per cent disconfirming evidence available to refute the claim that Harding was the first person to use the exact phrase 'founding fathers' to label and laud the men who signed the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. Whatever the outcome of future academic debates on this issue, Harding's own first deployment of the phrase was not in 1916, as I reveal below in Part 2 of the mythbusting.
Secondly, despite seemingly countless claims made in scholarly articles, textbooks, newspaper stories and web sites that Harding first used the phrase in 1916, he used the exact same phrase ‘founding fathers’ in a speech made on November 19th, or else 23rd, 1914, which was then published in an article in January 1915.
Warren Harding’s 1915 founding fathers speech article entitled 'Our Merchant Marine' was published in the first year of his term in office as a US Senator , following his election to the post in 1914. The provenance checking research technique, which I have named internet dating, proves this fact beyond doubt.
Here is the disconfirming evidence for the 1916 part of the Harding Founded Founding Fathers Myth:
Harding, W. G. (1915) 'Our Merchant Marine'. Marine Review, Volume 45. p.10:
‘The founding fathers gave us an American merchant marine which carried more than 90 per cent of our commerce across the seas. Modern lack of patriotism has given Europeans 90 per cent of our trans-oceanic trade.’
Note: this 1915 article contains a footnote on page 10 which reads: 'Speech before Youngstown Chamber of Commerce Nov. 19.' Given that the article was published in January 1915, it seems most probable that Harding made the speech in November 1914.
To add an element of uncertainty that founding father experts and Harding scholars will undoubtedly be able to clear-up, it is possible that the 19th November date is incorrect and should be November 23rd, because Butler (1927 p. 308) claims Harding gave a speech there on that day in 1914:
‘Warren G. Harding, twenty-eighth President of the United States, was one of my warm personal friends for a period of about thirty years, during which time he rose from a humble station to the highest in the land. ... Mr.Harding was the principal speaker at a meeting of the Youngstown Chamber of Commerce held on November 23,1914, when I was president of that organization.’
That said, Butler does make a mistake in claiming that his 'warm personal friend' Harding is the 28th president, because he is in fact the 29th. Perhaps Butler was out by a few days on the speech date as well? On the basis of what I've seen so far. I suspect that Butler may be right. Because the only other publication I have to date been able to find online suggests that the date in question was indeed the 23rd and not the 19th of November 1914. Cottrill, D. E. (1969, p. 37) writes that Harding met with the Youngstown Chamber of Commerce on November 23rd:
Founded Founding Fathers Myth Busted. Mike Sutton 2013. Dysology.org
If anyone can provide verifiable evidence of the exact day when Harding deployed the 'founding fathers' phrase in November 1914, perhaps they would be kind enough to do so by way of public comment in the comments section below.
One thing is pretty much certain and that is that on the basis of this new knowledge, it seems very likely, therefore, that November 1914 was perhaps the first time that Harding deployed the phrase 'founding fathers' when he used it in a political speech in Youngstown. However, as more and more rare and obscure documents (such as the Sunset newspaper, Cigar Makers Journal, and the Marine Review) are scanned as part of Google's massive and incredibly innovative Library Project we should not be surprised if we learn in the future that the exact same phrase was used even earlier than 1914 to describe those who signed the US Declaration of Independence.
As I argued in my blog last week (Sutton 2013), for the next decade at least, scholars in all disciplines are likely to find that certain 'knowledge' claims regarding the provenance of words, phrases and concepts will be in a state of flux. Mythbusters too had better watch out because much of today's new found knowledge is likely to have a shorter half-life than society has experienced since the beginning of the Great Enlightenment of the 18 Century. The full impact of Google's fantastic book, article and document scanning project will take some time to peak, but I think we are just at the beginning of what scholars will look back on as The Golden Age of Mythbusting, which began in the second decade of the Information Age.
Internet dating strikes out current knowledge claims once again. Because Harding never coined the phrase founding fathers at all. Moreover, he first deployed it in a 1914 speech, which was published in 1915, not in a 1916 speech.
I have little doubt that the numerous expert scholars of the US founding fathers, and those concerned with wider US political history, will now be keen to compare and contrast the themes of Harding’s previously ‘undiscovered’ 1915 article with his famous speech of 1916. I’m no expert on politics but contrasts and similarities between the two are most fascinating.
More details about the internet dating research technique and other myths that I have used it to bust will be included in an e-book that I am currently writing on the subject and will publish this year.
Mike Sutton Jan 30th 2013
Butler, J. G. (1927) Recollections of men and events: an autobiography, being some account of activities, experiences, observations and personal impressions during a long and busy life. Putnam.
Cottrill, D. E. (1969) The Conciliator. Philadelphia, Dorrance. P. 37
Harding, W. G. (1915) Our Merchant Marine. Marine Review, Volume 45. pp. 10-11
Lepore, J. (2010) The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History. New Jersey. Princeton University Press.
May, W. B.(1895) Chronicles of a Highway, El Nuevo Camino Rea; (Fourth paper). Sunset, May 6th San Francisco, Calif. Vol 1. No 2. In magazine format
Sutton, M. (2013) Twenty First Century Knowledge Flux: The Impact of Internet Dating as a Research Technique to Determine the Veracity of Knowledge Claims Regarding the Provenance of Words, Phrases and Concepts. In Criminology: The Blog of Mike Sutton. BestThnking.Com. Click here.
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About the Author
Dr Mike Sutton is the author of 'Nullius in Verba: Darwin's greatest secret'.
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