It’s a great line, an almost-Mark Twain-ism that makes people of all political strips smile. It’s attributed to John Adams:
I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm; and that three or more become a Congress!
There’s a problem: John Adams didn’t say it.
It’s a line from the 1969 Broadway musical comedy 1776!
The character John Adams in the play said it.
We should more accurately attribute it to the play’s book’s author, Peter Stone.
What John Adams did not say about Congress, Peter Stone wrote. Such wit deserves proper attribution.
Mention of “law firms” gives away the origin’s being much later than Adams’s — Adams died, as you know, on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. “Law firms” is 20th century language.
A day after Fulbright & Jaworski LLC announced a merger with Norton Rose, one might almost wish that law firms would be just three people. Norton Rose Fulbright starts out with 3,800 lawyers in 55 offices around the world. [Conflict of interest note: My spouse works at Fulbright & Jaworski.] The distaste with lawyers in the Stone quote also doesn’t ring to the times of the American Revolution. Good lawyer jokes probably existed then, but they didn’t really rise until the lawyerly pettifogging of the 19th century — see Dickens’ Mr. Bumble in Chapter 51 of Oliver Twist, or the entire text of Bleak House, for examples. Twain joked about Congress, but a joke about both Congress and lawyers probably was rare before 1910. (I am willing to be disabused of this idea, if I am wrong . . . comments are open.)
Wikiquote’s rapid improvement provides us with a good check on whether Adams said it — Wikiquote points us clearly to Peter Stone instead.
Stone died in 2003, much underappreciated if you ask me. Stone might be said to be among the greatest ghost speechwriters in history based on 1776! alone, creating lines for John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson — three of the greatest authors and (sometimes reluctant) speakers of their day, and of all history. Stone’s plays include Titanic and Two by Two, his screenplays include Charade, Arabesque, Mirage, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Father Goose.
- Norton Rose and Fulbright & Jaworski Form Law Firm Giant (blogs.wsj.com)
- John Adams, 1765 (williamboggess.wordpress.com)
- Thought of the Day 10.30.12 John Adams (PART ONE) (ritalovestowrite.com)
- On This Day in 1800, John Adams Moves Into The White House (rememberinghistory.wordpress.com)
- Norton Rose to merge with U.S. firm Fulbright and Jaworski (business.financialpost.com)
Symphony of Science: Highest and best use of Autotune — does putting stuff to music make for better editing? (Great question in the 100th anniversary year of Woody Guthrie‘s birth, yes?)
Al Gore as the climate change denialists fear him most, approachable, concise, powerful images, and in tune:
(Woody Guthrie’s reputation has nothing to fear from Al Gore; which is okay, considering they’re probably on the same side of most issues.)
- Al Gore’s views on climate change, extreme weather and Keystone XL – full transcript (guardian.co.uk)
- Al Gore’s 24-Hour Live Broadcast: ‘The Dirty Weather Report’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Symphony of Science – Our Biggest Challenge (Climate Change Music Video) (natureandus.wordpress.com)
- Tune in to the Climate Reality Project’s “Dirty Weather Report” (biggreenpurse.com)
- WUWT-TV To Counter Al Gore’s ‘Dirty Weather Report’ With Live webcast (prnewswire.com)
- Climate Catastrophe Nearer, Al Gore Gives Us About 90 More Years (forbes.com)
- Symphony of Science: Climate change (timpanogos.wordpress.com)
- “California takes big step in limiting greenhouse gases,” Reuters, November 14, 2012
- Cap and trade program, explanation from the California Air Resources Board
- “California’s first carbon auction challenged in lawsuit,” Bloomberg News, November 14, 2012
- “California’s first auction of greenhouse-gas credits nears,” Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2012
- New Symphony of Science video on climate change (earthsky.org)