Who said this quote?

Patriotism is not a short frenzied burst of emotion, but the long and steady dedication of a lifetime.

I've seen some sources claiming it was Thomas Jefferson and others claiming it was Adlai Stevenson. It could be that Stevenson was quoting Jefferson, but I haven't found any credible-looking sources for this being a Jefferson quote.

Ideally, I'd like to know who said this, when they said it, and where.

2 Answers 2


It does look suspicious to me. It's tough to put my finger on, but the phraseology doesn't look very 18th century. It doesn't sound like other Jefferson writing to me either. Also Jefferson is a rather conveniently famous and beloved figure to tag it onto if you aren't sure (or don't happen to like who really said it...)

With a fairly thorough googling, I did find rather a lot of instances of it attributed to Jefferson, but all IMHO from shaky sources, and none included a reference to the written material it was supposedly taken from.

As you said, I also managed to find it attributed to Adlai Stevenson. While I have the same suspicions as you that he could possibly have been re-quoting Jefferson, I did find at least one source for this attribution which is older than any Jefferson attribution I could find, and from someone with at least more credibility than a random internet schmoe: a memorial for Adlai Stevenson, penned by (then Vice President) Hubert Humphrey in July of 1969.

Perhaps my favorite words of Adlai were the ones I used often during the 1968 Presidential Campaign: "Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime".

The word "frenzied" in particular looks very modern and anachronistic coming from Jefferson. Out of curiosity, I ran it through Ngram, and got the following:

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In other words, it appears to have been a far more popular word in the early to mid 20th century (precisely when Adlai Stevenson was active) than in the mid to late 18th (when Jefferson was active).

So I'd go with Adlai. If you're wrong, at least you can blame a former VP for it, rather than a bunch of random internet people you don't know.

  • 2
    I did my own Google search and I found a rather reliable source, stating that the quote was by Stevenson. I also found this Wikipedia page and numerous others citing the site as a source, which makes be believe it is at least somewhat reliable. +1
    – Luke_0
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 21:17
  • 1
    Wikiquote, the UVA Jefferson Digital Archive, the Jefferson Cyclopedia, the Jefferson Online Encyclopedia and the Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress all turned up zilch. It's probably not a Jefferson quote, so Adlai Stevenson is the better bet. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 13:03
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    @RISwampYankee - I'd be curious to see if Jefferson ever used the word "frenzied" in any of those sources. Most writers, even very sharp ones like Jefferson, have a certian vocabulary they almost never step out of. If you can't find him ever using that word in a large enough sample of his writings, its almost certian the phrase is not his.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 21:18
  • @T.E.D. - Frenzy yes, frenzied, no. The LoC archive was smart enough to search for both after entering frenzied. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 22:16
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    @Luke I think you can, actually, creating a bounty and assigning it to him ^^
    – o0'.
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 23:15

Those words were spoken by Adlai E. Stevenson in one of his campaign speeches for the 1952 U.S. presidential election.

The full quote is as follows:

What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility which will enable America to remain master of her power--to walk with it in serenity and wisdom, with self-respect and the respect of all mankind; a patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. The dedication of a lifetime--these are words that are easy to utter, but this is a mighty assignment. For it is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.


  • Since Stevenson said "what do we mean...in the context of our times?" it is unlikely he was quoting an older definition of patriotism. The wording has internal consistency and appears to be his own. Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 17:44
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    This doesn't nessecarily mean he originally came up with the phrase, but it does at least show him saying it, which is more than we have for Jefferson. So +1 from me.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 19:55

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