FACT CHECK: Did Patrick Henry Say The Constitution ‘Is An Instrument For The People To Restrain The Government’?

Joseph Lafave | Contributor

The Facebook page The Uncensored Truth posted a meme claiming that founding father Patrick Henry once said, “The Constitution is not a document for the government to restrain the people: it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”

Verdict: False

While Henry was wary of centralized government, there is no evidence he ever said the quote in question.

Fact Check:

Henry, a lawyer by trade, spoke out against the ratification of the Constitution, feeling that it gave too much power to the federal government and did not adequately protect individual liberties. A strong proponent of states’ rights, he was also critical of the Constitution’s opening line of “We the people.”

“Who authorized them to speak the language of, ‘We, the people,’ instead of, ‘We, the states?’ States are the characteristics and the soul of a confederation,” Henry said during the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788.

Although he believed in a limited federal government, the quote in question does not appear in the transcripts of Henry’s speeches, which are made available by the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, and neither can it be found anywhere else credible online.

Thomas S. Kidd, a distinguished professor of history at Baylor University who has written about Henry, researched the origin of the quote, writing in a 2012 piece for HuffPost that it “seems to have been entirely fabricated.” He believes the quote first appeared in 2003 in the text of two books. Google Books shows references dating back to at least the 1990s.

The meme appears to be pulled from Constituting America, a group that seeks to educate students and adults about the Constitution. The organization shared the same meme on Facebook in December 2013, receiving nearly 62,000 shares.

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Joseph Lafave