No: George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree, and Lincoln did not make up his mind to be happy.

Washington and lying

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

We’re sorry to report that the most famous anecdote about our first president’s boyhood virtue probably never happened. According to historians at, the whole story of six-year-old George chopping down a cherry tree and then owning up to it comes from a fictionalized biography written by minister and bookseller Parson Weems in 1800. With his fable-like The Life of Washington, Weems endeavored both to inspire good behavior in young Americans via inspiring,  largely made-up anecdotes, and to turn a tidy profit in the popular history market—which he did; his book was an instant bestseller. The now-famous cherry tree story didn’t even appear until the book’s fifth edition, published in 1806. Learn the truth behind 16 more history questions everyone gets wrong.

Jefferson and patriotism

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

As much as we love to imagine TJ thumbing his nose at King George III with this zinger, the first known usage did not appear until 1961—in a piece of anti-war propaganda. The full line as it appears in the 46-page The Use of Force in International Affairs gives the hawkish line a new spin: “If what your country is doing seems to you practically and morally wrong, is dissent the highest form of patriotism?” The line remained popular through the Vietnam era, and was used again in a 1969 speech by New York Mayor John Lindsay at Columbia University, defending nonviolent protesters.

Lincoln and speaking up

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Abraham Lincoln was undeniably funny, but sadly, he is not this classic zinger’s founding father. The quote’s first attribution to Lincoln comes in a 1931 edition of Golden Book magazine, leaving a suspiciously long gap from his 1865 death. Many variations of this line exist going back to the Bible (Proverbs 17:28 advises, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue”), but the first appearance of this exact phrasing comes from a 1907 book of nonsense verse by author Maurice Switzer. For real Abe Lincoln one-liners, check out 19 times the president was the funniest person in America.