The Grammarphobia Blog

Waxing Rothschild

Q: You’ve written about quote magnets, famous people cited for saying things they never said. I suspect that these supposed Rothschild quotes are examples of such magnetism: (1) “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes its laws.” (2) “Buy when there’s blood running in the streets.”

A: We’ve looked into those purported Rothschild quotations, and they’re not genuine.

Let’s look at the first one first—“Give me control of a nation’s money, and I care not who makes its laws.”

As the word sleuth Barry Popik writes on his Big Apple website, the earliest versions of this quote weren’t attributed to anybody in particular.

His research, which is still in progress, shows that in 1908 the quote appeared as “Let us control the money of a country and we care not who makes its laws.” At the time, the quote was vaguely identified as a maxim of “the money lenders of the Old World.”

But it was probably a variation on an English proverb that was a couple of centuries older. The gist of the proverb is “Let me make the songs [or ballads] of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.”

The “money” version of the quote (which varies a lot in its wording) was attributed to Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the Rothschild banking empire, in 1935, more than a century after his death.

Rothschild was first named as the author of the quote in Gertrude M. Coogan’s book Money Creators (1935), which claims that “the World is ruled by the International Money Masters.” Here’s the relevant passage:

“Meyer [sic] Amschel Rothschild, who founded the great international banking house of Rothschild which, through its affiliation with the European Central Banks, still dominates the financial policies of practically every country in the world, said: ‘Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.’ ”

Coogan didn’t provide a source or a date for the quotation, but those who have subsequently repeated it have given dates ranging from 1790 to 1863 (Mayer Rothschild died in 1812).

The quote appears in many different forms, a sure sign that there’s no original source.

Sometimes it begins with “Give me control of a nation’s money” and sometimes with “Give me control of a nation’s money supply.” Sometimes it ends with “who write the laws,” sometimes with “who makes the laws,” and sometimes with “who governs it.”

We’ve tried mightily to find an original source—a diary, letter, speech, newspaper clipping, a passage from an old book, or whatnot—but unsuccessfully.

As for the second quote—“Buy when there’s blood in the streets”—it’s apocryphal too.

Its supposed authors include “Baron Guy de Rothschild,” “Baron Nathan Mayer Rothschild,” “Bernard Rothschild,” “old man Rothschild,” or simply “Rothschild.”

It’s most often attributed to “Baron Rothschild, an 18th-century English nobleman,” but there was no such person. (No Rothschild was made a British peer until late in the 19th century.)

The quote has also been attributed to Bernard Baruch and John D. Rockefeller Sr. And it has sometimes been referred to merely as “an old stock market proverb.”

This quotation varies wildly too. You might come across it as “Real men only buy when there’s blood in the streets,” or “I invest only when I hear the sound of cannon fire and see blood running in the streets,” or “When there is blood in the streets, buy property.”

Here again, an original source is nowhere to be found. There’s no evidence—only hearsay.

Barry Popik has looked into this one too, and he’s traced its development back to an 1894 article in the Chicago Daily Tribune. Here’s the passage from his website:

“It is related that in the old days of the Commune in Paris a panic-stricken investor turned up in the office of M. de Rothschild and exclaimed: ‘You advise me to buy securities now. You are my enemy. The streets of Paris run with blood.’ And Rothschild’s answer was this: ‘My dear friend, if the streets of Paris were not running with blood do you think you would be able to buy at the present prices?’ ”

So even in its original incarnation, the story was merely anecdotal. The Paris Commune was in 1871, but this story didn’t appear until 23 years later, and with no better sourcing that “It is related ….”

Until we find solid evidence pointing to their original sources (if any), we’ll assume that both of these are fake quotations.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that many of the Internet repetitions of these quotes appear on anti-Semitic or “global conspiracy” websites.

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