“America is great, because America is good.”
That line brought the house down at the Democratic National Convention last night in Philadelphia as Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. However, that quote has been used time after time by multiple US Presidents and presidential candidates alike, but unfortunately, the source of that quote has been misrepresented each time.
Hillary isn’t the first Clinton to recite that line. Then President Bill Clinton used it during a speech in Boston in 1994:
“I believe fundamentally in the common sense and the essential core goodness of the American people. Don’t forget that Alexis de Tocqueville said a long time ago that America is great because America is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, she will no longer be great.”
Alexis de Tocqueville, who Bill referred to, was a famous 19th century French statesman, historian, and social philosopher. He traveled to America in the 1830s to discover the reasons for the incredible success of America. He published his observations in his classic two-volume work, Democracy in America. An article from The Weekly Standard appearing in 1995 debunks the claim that this quote came from Alexis de Tocqueville and his book Democracy in America.
“The authenticity of the passage came into question when first-year government students at Claremont McKenna College received an assignment: Find a contemporary speech quoting Tocqueville, and determine how accurately the speaker used the quotation. A student soon uncovered a recent Senate floor speech that cited the “America is great” line. He scoured Democracy in America, but could not find the passage. The professor looked, too — and it was not there.
Further research led to reference books that cautiously referred to the quotation as “unverified” and “attributed to de Tocqueville but not found in his works.” These references, in turn, pointed to the apparent source: a 1941 book on religion and the American dream. The book quoted the last two lines of the passage as coming from Democracy in America but supplied no documentation. (The author may have mistaken his own notes for a verbatim quotation, a common problem in the days before photocopiers.) The full version of the quotation appeared 11 years later, in an Eisenhower campaign speech. Ike, however, attributed it not directly to Tocqueville but to “a wise philosopher [who] came to this country. . . .”
The quote even appeared in the 1996 Presidential election when Pat Buchanan used the “America is great” line in the speech announcing his candidacy.
Ronald Reagan used that line in 1983 and quoted de Tocqueville when addressing the National Associates of Evangelicals.
I don’t believe these politicians are blatantly plagiarizing and passing off certain phrases as their own, except…well, Hillary Clinton.