This is the talk page for discussing improvements to the Otto von Bismarck page.

Law and sausages


The quote about law and sausages, though popularly attributed to Bismarck and sounding like something he might have said, doesn't seem to have been by him. An early printed source containing the quote [1] attributes it to an unnamed member of the Illinois state legislature; the source is from 1898, and claims the quote was uttered around twenty years prior. The earliest source of which I am aware attributing it to Bismarck is not until 1958 [2], although since it is said to have been a "famous epigram of Bismarck" at that time, it's possible there are earlier attributions to Bismarck. However my searches of JSTOR, Lexis-Nexis, and Google Books turn up no other mentions prior to 1958. In addition, although it is frequently quoted, I have never seen it quoted with even a purported source or date. Therefore I'd propose moving this to "misattributed".

An even earlier quotation is attributed to John Godfrey Saxe, who is quoted in the University Chronicle, University of Michigan, Vol. III, No. 23 or 27 March 1869, as saying " Laws... like, sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made". See

[1] Frank W. Tracy (1898). The Report of the Committee on Uniform Laws, of the American Bankers' Association. Banking Law Journal 15: 542. Dug up in this law-lib mailing-list posting: [1].

Context: "Some twenty years ago, as I was sitting in the House of Representatives of the Illinois legislature, watching its closing hours, a member who had never spoken during the entire session arose to address the House... He said: '...I have come to the conclusion that the making of laws is like the making of sausages—the less you know about the process the more you respect the result.'"

[2] Supreme Court of Florida (1958). In re Petition of Edward T. Graham. 104 So. 2d 16.

Context: "In his effort to have the court speculate and prophesy in advance that the Committee will exceed its authority, the appellant appears to have taken his cue from the famous epigram of Bismarck, 'to retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.'"

--Delirium 03:25, 28 November 2006 (UTC)Reply

I totally agree with you, Delirium. I found a similar quote attributed to Bismarck on the German Wikiquote, but it cannot be traslated. Perhaps some English author may have been inspired with that, but we cannot prove it. Regretfully it is un "attributed quote" so no dated on the German Wikiquote.
According to German Wikiquote, the Reichskanzler said, "Je weniger die Leute darüber wissen, wie Würste und Gesetze gemacht werden, desto besser schlafen sie nachts.", and German people seem to remember his "sausage quote" in this form and only. This could be translated "The lesser the people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they sleep in the night". 'to retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.' would be a loose translation of this statement. --Aphaia 09:35, 21 February 2007 (UTC)Reply
Earlier still: A certain witty advocate remarked: “One would risk being disgusted if one saw politics, justice, and one’s dinner in the making.” - Nicolas de Chamfort (1741–1794) —Preceding unsigned comment added by
— Un certain marchand, avocat, homme d’esprit, disait : « On court les risques du dégoût, en voyant comment l’administration, la justice et la cuisine se préparent. » Caracères et Anecdotes, p. 151. (talk) 14:32, 27 July 2015 (UTC)Reply

Guns and Butter


Does anybody know about a quote attributed to Bismarck, regarding what will he choose if Germany could only produce either more guns or more butter?

Hermann Göring is known to have made such a statement. Bismarck, so far as I am aware, did not. ~ Kalki 18:10, 21 May 2007 (UTC)Reply

T thought Bbismarck did too but can't place it-- -I am starting to do first revision of the guns or butter article.Either it is misattributued or just takes more finding. ~ [[User:::SimonTrew|Simon]] 18:20. 3 Aug 2008 UTC

The Guns of Butter would be a nonsense take on Tuchman's most famous book. - 06:03, 15 January 2021 (UTC)Reply

"Politics is not an exact science"


The quotation used as caption for the first image is not sourced or attributed elsewhere on the page. Does anybody know its origin? ~ Ningauble 16:26, 22 February 2009 (UTC)Reply

I have provided some sourcing on that quote, and will probably attempt to do more on this page within the next couple of days. ~ Kalki 17:01, 22 February 2009 (UTC)Reply
Thanks. After posing the question, I was rummaging around GoogleBooks looking for a different quote and found the same thing. :-) Ningauble 17:56, 22 February 2009 (UTC)Reply

My guess is that whoever said it first, they were paraphrasing Aristotle, who says something like "political science is not an exact science" at Nicomachean Ethics I.iii. --SBH



Wikiquote no longer allows unsourced quotations, and they are in process of being removed from our pages (see Wikiquote:Limits on quotations); but if you can provide a reliable, precise and verifiable source for any quote on this list please move it to Otto von Bismarck. --Antiquary 19:06, 30 June 2009 (UTC)Reply

  • Der König herrscht aber regiert nicht.
    • The king reigns but does not govern.
  • Ich bin gewöhnt in der Münze wiederzuzahlen in der man mich bezahlt.
    • I am accustomed to pay men back in their own coin.
  • Lieber Spitzkugeln als Spitzreden.
    • Better pointed bullets than pointed speeches.
  • A government must not waver once it has chosen its course. It must not look to the left or right but go forward.
  • A journalist is a person who has mistaken their calling.

Dhalper (talk) 19:54, 18 July 2017 (UTC) According to Journalism Quarterly (December 1948, pp. 587-588), Bismarck never said this, nor did he say any of the other variants, like "a journalist is a man who missed his calling." Rather, what actually he did say was something far more controversial: on November 10, 1862, he asserted that the press was "in the hands of Jews and malcontents who have missed their calling."Reply

  • A little caution outflanks a large cavalry.
  • A really great man is known by three signs— generosity in the design, humanity in the execution, moderation in success.
    • Variant: The three signs of great men are— generosity in the design, humanity in the execution, moderation in success.
  • Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.
  • Be polite; write diplomatically; even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness.
  • All treaties between great states cease to be binding when they come in conflict with the struggle for existence.
  • An appeal to fear never finds an echo in German hearts.
  • Beware of sentimental alliances where the consciousness of good deeds is the only compensation for noble sacrifices.
  • I have always found the word "Europe" in the mouths of those politicians who wanted from other powers something they did not dare to demand in their own name.
  • I have never lived on principles. When I have had to act, I never first asked myself on what principles I was going to act, but I went at it and did what I thought fit. I have often reproached myself for my want of principle.
  • I have seen three emperors in their nakedness, and the sight was not inspiring.
  • If there is ever another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans. (almost perfectly describes World War I, which occured well after his death)
  • If the British Army landed in Europe, I'd get the Belgian police to arrest them.
  • Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.
    • Variant: Never believe in anything until it has been officially denied.
  • People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.
    • Variant: People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, and before an election.
  • The main thing is to make history, not to write it.
  • What we learn from history is that no one learns from history.
  • The secret of politics? Make a good treaty with Russia.
  • The most noble gentleman works 9 to 5
  • You can't destroy the Poles but if you give them power they'll destroy themselves.
  • When a man says he approves of something in principle, it means he hasn't the slightest intention of putting it into practice.
    • Variants: When a man says he approves of something in principle, it means he hasn't the slightest intention of carrying it out in practice.
      When you say you agree to a thing in principle you mean that you have not the slightest intention of carrying it out in practice.
  • When you want to fool the world, tell the truth.
  • A Bavarian is halfway between an Austrian and a human being.
  • The most significant event of the 20th century will be that the fact that the North Americans speak English.
  • He who is not a socialist at 19, has no heart. He who is still a socialist at 30, has no brain.
    • exists in different variations, this one by Otto von Bismarck
  • The Americans are truly a lucky people. They are bordered to the north and south by weak neighbors and to the east and west by fish.
  • 20 years after I'm gone, it will all be over.
    • Referring to the German Empire, which fell in November 1918, 20 years and one month after Bismarck's death.
  • I know exactly what sort of a man Bleichroder was and how such vain and unscrupulous types like that are wont to operate. I only console myself in the knowledge that I never let him have any state secrets. That Bleichroder would have liked such secrets I'm certain, and that he gave airs to third parties about being the Bismarck banker, I know too. But it is simply in the nature of the race and of business; I could not have altered that even if I had changed my banker.
    • Remarks to the editor of an anti-Semitic newspaper following the death of his banker Gerson Bleichroder in 1894.
  • Never trust a Russian, because Russian does not believe even to themselves.
    • Before the Congress of Berlin in 1878

additional unsourced quotes :

  • The Americans have contrived to be surrounded on two sides by weak neighbors and on two sides - by fish!
  • History is simply a piece of paper covered with print; the main thing is still to make history, not to write it.
  • I am bored; all of the great things have been done.
  • The Balkans start in the slums of Vienna.
  • The world spins around in circles. Germany remains stagnant.
  • Whoever speaks of Europe is wrong: it is a geographical expression.

Special Providence


Early examples


Earliest known appearance, 1849:

  • Were it not for this torpid ductility, this self-abandonment to what Correa called “the special providence over the United States and little children,” the accidents of a young government, like the accidents of a young child, would be fearfully accumulated.

Some other nineteenth-century appearances:

  • It has been said that a “special Providence watches over children, drunkards, and the United States.”
  • I understand the saying that God takes care of children, drunken men and the United States.
  • We labor continuously against this seemingly popular American idea, that Providence takes care of children, fools and the United States.
    • Brevet-Major Melville C. Wilkinson, “Relation of the regulary army to the country in time of peace”, speech read March 13, 1893, Glimpses of the nation's struggle (1898), 4th series, p. 57
  • Why are the prosperous times for this country so largely due to the whimsical intervention of that Providence which our French friends say watches over fools, drunkards, and Americans?
    • "Inverted protection", New York Times, July 22, 1897, Page 4



Here is the earliest known attribution to Bismarck (thanks to Garson O'Toole for this):

  • When it is remembered that in this campaign the United States won a glorious victory far-reaching in its results, in spite of a lack of proper and timely preparation, in spite of the small size of the invading army and the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, in spite of the tropical rains, the withering heat, the deadly fevers, and the desperate resistance offered by the Spaniards on the battlefield, one is almost tempted to exclaim with Bismarck that “God always looks after the fools and — and the United States.”

This is ambiguous, but it doesn't seem as if Sargent is saying that Bismarck made that statement about the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. But this may be the genesis of the idea that Bismarck made this statement just before his death, since he died just 27 days after this battle. For example,

  • Prince Bismarck is said to have remarked, just before his death, that there was a special providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America.
    • In The Oxford History of the United States 1783-1917 (1927), by Samuel Eliot Morison, p. 413.

Another early attribution to Bismarck:

  • We Americans have sublime faith in the truth of the remark once made by Bismarck that “the Lord takes care of babes, fools, and the United States.”

Earlier French proverb


It's a play on an older proverb. E.g., "That peculiar Providence which the French proverb truly says, always watches over fools and drunkards, brought him in safety to Rome", Gulian Crommelin Verplanck, “The Peregrinations of Petrus Mudd,” Stories of American Life, Volume 3 edited by Mary Russell Mitford (1830) p.66.

Some early appearances in French:

Other variants

  • God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America
  • The Lord looks after fools, drunks, and the United States.
  • There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America.
  • A special Providence takes care of fools, drunkards, and the United States.
  • God always looks after the fools and the United States.

KHirsch 20:25, 5 November 2009 (UTC)Reply

  • I've heard "God looks out for blind men, drunken sailors, and the United States" but that is probably too good by a half to be the right wording. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 17:18, 3 October 2013‎

Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.


I see "Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others" attributed to Bismarck all over the internet, but I can't find an original source.

Bastetswarrior 23:44, 24 September 2011 (UTC)Reply

I can't find a primary source. The earliest attribution I can find is from 1872, Le Dernier des Napoléon, p. 240: "Les sots prétendent qu'on n'apprend qu'à ses dépens.... J'ai toujours tâché d'apprendre aux dépens des autres." This was translated into English (1875) here as: "Fools pretend that one learns only at his own expense; I have always striven to learn at the expense of others."
In the book "Bismarck intime: The iron chancellor in private life" (1890), once again translated from French, it appears as (p. 180): "Fools pretend that you can only gain experience at your own expense, but I have always managed to learn at the expense of others."
In F. Maurice's War (1891), it is given as a prefatory quote: "Fools say that you can only gain experience at your own expense, but I have always contrived to gain my experience at the expense of others." In a brief review in a German publication (1892), this is translated as: "Narren behaupten, dass man nur auf eigene Kosten Erfahrung sammeln könne; aber ich habe immer versucht, meine Erfahrungen auf Anderer Kosten zu gewinnen."
Other than that, I have had very little success in finding the quote in German, but that may be due largely to my extremely limited German skills.
KHirsch 05:41, 28 September 2011 (UTC)Reply
As an addendum, here are some variants of the quote in German that I find in recent books (last 20 years), but not in any old German books on Google Books:
  • Nur ein Idiot glaubt, aus den eigenen Erfahrungen zu lernen. Ich ziehe es vor, aus den Erfahrungen anderer zu lernen, um von Vornherein eigene Fehler zu vermeiden.
  • Nur ein Dummkopf glaubt, nur aus den eigenen Fehlern lernen zu können, ich ziehe es vor, aus den Fehlern anderer zu lernen, um eigene Fehler möglichst zu vermeiden.
  • Ihr seid alle Idioten zu glauben, aus Eurer Erfahrung etwas lernen zu können, ich ziehe es vor, aus den Fehlern anderer zu lernen, um eigene Fehler zu vermeiden.
  • Ich ziehe es vor, aus den Erfahrungen anderer zu lernen, um von vornherein eigene Fehler zu vermeiden.
KHirsch 10:39, 5 October 2011 (UTC)Reply

This quote is a variant of an old stoic proverb anyway. Oldest written reference, Seneca the Younger. --CRATYLUS22

"Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans"


I cannot believe that one of my favourite Bismarck quotes is missing from this page. The Guns of Augusts' chapter "Outbreak" begins with the quote. The quote is sourced here as well. One place proclaims it was said in 1888. --Svippong (talk) 13:08, 20 June 2013 (UTC)Reply

The most famous quote about Russia???


Can you find any sources of that quote? It is mentioned very often in Russia.

"Never fight against Russians. Your every cunning will be responded by their unpredictable stupidity". Mark Ekimov (talk) 19:41, 15 August 2013 (UTC)Reply

Quote about souls quarreling in his breast


This is quoted across the web but I couldn't find a source:

“Faust complained about having two souls in his breast, but I harbor a whole crowd of them and they quarrel. It is like being in a republic.”

--Chriswaterguy (talk) 08:27, 24 February 2015 (UTC)Reply

I don't know German, so I didn't try to find the original, but I added the quote you've suggested, and sourced it as best as I could. ~ DanielTom (talk) 10:03, 24 February 2015 (UTC)Reply

A Bavarian is halfway between an Austrian and a human being is incorrect


The correct quote reads in English: A Bavarian is halfway between an Alsatian and a human being. (Note: an Alsatian is also a term for a German Shepherd dog).

I Never Believe Anything Until It Is Officially Denied


This web article is called: Never Believe Anything Until It Is Officially Denied - Otto von Bismarck? Cynical Broker? Hy Sheridan? Claud Cockburn? Edward Cheyfitz? Anonymous?
I first read or heard "I Never Believe Anything Until It Is Officially Denied" (which was attributed to Bismarck) so long ago that I can't remember where I read or heard it, though it may or may not have been a bio of Bismarck by AJP Taylor. The above article has done a very good analysis, gives two attributions to Bismarck (from 1911 and 1924) and concludes that it was probably anonymous. But I don't know whether it counts as a reliable source (tho many of its citations are presumably checkable), and I don't know whether it has examined German sources. An unmentioned modern variant is allegedly called Pilger's Law. The quote almost certainly needs to appear here, if only as a quote possibly erroneously attributed to Bismarck. But I don't have any experience of editing Wikiquotes, let alone of adding disputed quotes backed by disputable sources, and I have too much else on my plate, so I probably won't be attempting to add it myself, at least not anytime soon. But perhaps some other editor could add it instead of me. Tlhslobus (talk) 16:00, 26 January 2018 (UTC)Reply

"Lies" quote


About two hours ago, one of Lawrence O'Donnell's guest's not only attributed it to the count, but misquoted with "marriage" in place of "war", in commenting on the Trump admin in the general context of the sleazy lawyer Michael whozis's presumably impending revelations. The accompanying WQ article's pink debunking box may deserve an expansion to reflect that potentially contagious new(-to-us) misquote/misattrb of the aphorism, whose existence (let alone its erroneous attribution) was previously unknown to [[Jerzyt|this Germanophilic editor]].
--Jerzyt 04:35, 23 August 2018 (UTC)Reply

Shame on me: s/be WP:Lawrence O'Donnell!
--Jerzyt 05:09, 23 August 2018 (UTC)Reply

"A conquering army on the border will not be stopped by eloquence."


Can anyone please find this quote ("A conquering army on the border will not be stopped by eloquence.") in the parliamentary session report here, so the reference can be added to the article? I can't seem to find it and I'm not fluent in German. Thank you very much in advance. --Nihil aliud scit necessitas quam vincere (talk) 05:04, 16 March 2020 (UTC)Reply

"It is better that ten innocent men suffer than one guilty man escape."


»For instance German chancellor Otto von Bismarck is believed to have remarked: "it is better that ten innocent men suffer than one guilty man escape."«,, p. 195

Source given: John W. Wade, "Uniform Comparative Fault Act," The Forum 14, no. 3 (1979): 379-405.

--tickle me 03:17, 1 December 2021 (UTC)Reply

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