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Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

AUTHOR: George Washington (1732–99)
QUOTATION: Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.
ATTRIBUTION: Attributed to GEORGE WASHINGTON.—Frank J. Wilstach, A Dictionary of Similes, 2d ed., p. 526 (1924). This can be found with minor variations in wording and in punctuation, and with “fearful” for “troublesome,” in George Seldes, The Great Quotations, p. 727 (1966). Unverified.

In his most recent book of quotations, The Great Thoughts (1985), Seldes says, p. 441, col. 2, footnote, this paragraph “although credited to the ‘Farewell’ [address] cannot be found in it. Lawson Hamblin, who owns a facsimile, and Horace Peck, America’s foremost authority on quotations, informed me this paragraph is apocryphal.”
SUBJECTS: Government