Alexander Hamilton? Gordon A. Eadie? Irene Dunne? Peter Marshall? Theodore DeVries? William Sloane Coffin Jr.? Alex Hamilton? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular exhortative statement that employs the contrasting words “stand” and “fall”. Here are three versions:

(1) If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.(2) Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.(3) When you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.

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This adage is attributed to Alexander Hamilton, Peter Marshall, and others. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: An interesting precursor for the saying appeared in a Methodist church announcement in an Iowa newspaper from 1926. The word order and meaning were distinct, but the keywords were the same. In 1927 the same precursor was printed as a “Sermonogram” in an Ohio newspaper: 1 2

It is easier to fall for anything than to stand for something.

Thanks to Andrew Steinberg for locating and sharing these nascent citations.

The earliest evidence of close match known to QI was published in the January 1945 issue of a journal called “Mental Hygiene”. At the time of publication World War II was still being fought. The adage appeared in an article by the medical doctor Gordon A. Eadie titled “The Over-All Mental-Health Needs of the Industrial Plant, with Special Reference to War Veterans”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 3

We are trying to show him not only what we are fighting against, but what we are fighting for. So many of these boys have only a very hazy idea of the real issues of the war. About all they see is “going back to the good old days.” This is a dangerous state. If they don’t stand for something, they will fall for anything. They need to realize that we are fighting two wars—the war of arms and the war of ideas—that other war of which the war of arms is one phase.

The important reference work “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” from Yale University Press has an entry for this adage and points to the same journal and year for its earliest citation. 4

Although the saying was employed by Gordon A. Eadie it is not clear whether he crafted it. A few months later the adage was spoken by the popular film actress Irene Dunne during a radio broadcast as indicated below. QI believes that it is reasonable to categorize this expression as an anonymous modern proverb.

The common attribution to the eighteenth-century statesman Alexander Hamilton was probably based on a mistaken understanding of a relatively modern citation. A different man named Alex Hamilton who was a British broadcaster used the saying in 1978. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Posted on February 18, 2014June 21, 2020Categories Irene DunneTags Alex Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton, Gordon A. Eadie, Irene Dunne, Peter Marshall, Theodore DeVries, William Sloane Coffin Jr.