Who’s that you say?

One of the most quoted authors among U.S. lawmakers is a British statesman.

A search of the Congressional Record by The Hill shows Winston Churchill, Mark Twain and William Shakespeare are three of the most quoted authors by lawmakers over the past five years.  

ADVERTISEMENT
Together, they dominate the literary landscape in Congress.

Churchill topped the list with more than 100 quotes, while Twain came in at around 70, and Shakespeare had more than 50 references. Many other literary icons, such as Charles Dickens, Homer and Ernest Hemingway, were quoted fewer than 10 times. 

The Hill conducted a search of the Congressional Record — starting from January 2009 — of some of the most famous names in literature to see whom lawmakers turn to for inspiration when they speak on the House or Senate floor.

“[Churchill, Twain and Shakespeare] are highly recognizable, and they each stand for something different that a politician would want to identify with,” said Charles Hill, author of Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft and World Order and the diplomat-in-residence lecturer at Yale.  

Churchill, he says, stands for political courage.

“If you quote Churchill, you are identifying yourself as an American politician with someone who is willing to stand up for what is right and good, no matter what opposition you may be meeting from your own side.”

Republicans more than Democrats favored the British statesman. Admirers include Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who is recorded, along with Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), quoting Churchill frequently over the past five years.

“I don’t know how many nights I slept with Churchill’s book on my chest,” King said, referring to Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

“You see that clarity of his understanding, and know that — he didn’t ever write this in his book, but it’s a conclusion I drew from the body of the work — that, wherever the English language has gone, it’s been accompanied by freedom, by liberty and by God-given liberty.”

“And he had a sense of humor, too.  Some of that I won’t repeat in this interview. And he liked a good cigar,” King added with a laugh.

Despite the wealth of books, newspaper articles and speeches attributed to the former prime minister, lawmakers tend to repeatedly dip into the same pool of quotations.

The most repeated is some variation of a quip often credited to Churchill: “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing — after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”

Meanwhile the great American novelist Mark Twain clocked in at No. 2 in The Hill’s search.

Perhaps there is no one more American than the author of what is often called “The Great American Novel”: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

“Twain is entirely identified with America,” said Hill. “He’s the most authentic, unquestionable, American common man, and as the novelist Earnest Hemingway said, all American literature comes out of one book, Huckleberry Finn.”

Republicans and Democrats seem to favor the author equally, quoting him at about the same frequency. 

Popular quotations include “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” as well as a favorite quip of former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who said in January 2009: “Mark Twain, when asked if he would engage in a debate, said: ‘Of course, as long as I can take the negative side.’ They said: ‘We haven’t even told you the subject.’ He said: ‘It doesn’t matter. The negative side will take no preparation at all.’ ”

Fellow Sen. Roy Blunt (R), a Missourian like Twain, commended the enduring quality of Twain’s words.

“Mark Twain, in his lifetime, was probably the most recognizable person in the world,” Blunt said.  “He traveled all over the world; he spoke all over the world; and it is interesting a century after he died, that he’s still quoted and read and a person of great interest.”

Whatever a lawmaker is trying to say, he or she can likely find it in Shakespeare — and they do. 

“Thou doth protest too much,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), borrowing — and slightly botching — the words of Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, during a debate concerning the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013.

Some lawmakers, perhaps inspired by Shakespeare’s creativity, put their own spin on the bard’s quotations.  

“To bail out or not to bail out, that is the question,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said in 2010, with “apologies to Shakespeare.”

Other authors who are favorites of members include Robert Frost, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Leo Tolstoy and Herman Melville. 

Even Dr. Seuss got a few mentions — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) read Green Eggs and Ham to his daughters during his marathon floor speech Tuesday night — and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) cited the famous author in an effort to repeal President Obama’s healthcare law in 2012:

“As Dr. Seuss would rhyme: If it walks like a tax, talks like a tax, and quacks like a tax, the Supreme Court will tell us surely it is a tax.  And so it did.  

Maybe we can serve it with green eggs and ham. 

Uncle Sam, I still don’t think Americans will like this ObamaCare sham. 

Uncle Sam, loyal to patient-centered choice I am.”