Can anyone explain the motto "Millions for defense, but not on e cent for tribute"?

Can anyone explain the origins of the phrase?

Who said that?

And to what does it mean by "not one cent for tribute"?

No tribute for whom/what?

7 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    There are a few popular mistakes in attributing this statement.

    First, and least importantly, the actual expression seems to have been "not a penny" rather than "not one cent".

    More significant are the errors about WHO said it and WHEN

    It was NOT made by Thomas Jefferson, nor was it related to the Barbary Pirates. *The idea is understandable, in that one of the nation's early problems WAS that the U.S., no longer under the protection of the British navy, was subject to the "tribute" demands of the Barbary states who took American ships and sailors to enforce these demands. But it simply didn't happen like that.) This seems to be a more recent error

    The older mistake is that this was what Charles Coatesworth Pinckney said in response to the 1797 French demand for a "gift" in exchange for negotiating a treaty with Talleyrand -- a demand made by three originally unidentified representatives dubbed "X, Y and Z", hence the name "XYZ Affair". And the French threat was much like that of the Barbary Pirates, that unless paid they would seize American ships. But Pinckney apparently DID at some point say "No! No! Not a sixpence!"

    Now the expression WAS a reponse to the XYZ Affair. But the words were uttered by Robert Goodloe Harper, a South Carolina Federalist and Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Harper uttered this at a dinner reception for John Marshall on June 18, 1798, upon Marshall's return from France . Marshall had been one of the three American diplomats sent to negotiate with the French. The other two were Elbridge Gerry and Charles C. Pinckney. Pinckney's involvement, together with his own response "No, no, not a sixpence!" explains the mistaken attribution.

    Below are some more detailed explanations of the errors and the actual circumstances of this famous quote (Unfortunately, the wikipedia articles are mistaken about this matter... I guess someone will have to correct this!)


    Ambassador Pinckney was not the author of this phrase. The spokesman appears to have been Representative Robert Goodloe Harper of South Carolina on the occasion of a dinner given by Congress to John Marshall, just returned from France, at Philadelphia in June, 1798

    Time Magazine, April 1937,9171,7...

    "Millions for defense but not one penny for tribute" is incorrectly attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Actually the quote was made by Rep. Robert Goodloe Harper, chairman of the committee on ways and means in Congress, on June 18, 1798. President John Adams had sent representatives to France to try to keep the US from going to war with that country. French and British warships had been attacking Americans ships at sea and claimed the right to seize American vessels. Three French diplomats offered to negotiate a treaty if the US would pay a bribe (tribute) to the French foreign minister, Tallyrand. This episode became known in history as the XYZ affair because the French diplomats were referred to by these initials rather than their names. The affair generated anger in the US, which prompted Rep. Harper's famous words.

    For further discussion of the wording used by Pinckney and of the quotation frequently but mistakenly attributed to Pinckney—“Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute,” actually said by Robert Goodloe Harper—see The Home Book of Quotations, ed. Burton Stevenson, 10th ed., p. 63 (1967) and “Notes and Queries,” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, vol. 1, pp. 100–103, 178–79 (1901).

    The XYZ Correspondence

    "The French Directory had been angered by the conclusion in 1794 of Jay's Treaty, which resolved differences between England and the United States, and in retaliation had stepped up its harassment of American shipping. In the 12-month period ending in June 1797, French ships had captured 316 vessels flying the American colors. In an effort to restore amity with the Continental power, President George Washington dispatched Charles C. Pinckney, a Southern Federalist, to Paris in December 1796. The Directory flatly rejected this conciliatory gesture. It not only refused to recognize the envoy but even threatened to arrest him if he did not quit the country, and Pinckney, incensed by the insult, departed for the Netherlands.

    "This serious rupture in diplomatic relations between the former wartime allies confronted John Adams when he assumed the presidency the following March. Determined to avoid the open conflict which threatened, he sent to Paris a three-member commission composed of Pinckney, John Marshall, another Federalist, and Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts Republican and Francophile. Soon after their arrival on October 4 they were received unofficially by the French foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, but then weeks passed with no word on when an audience with the Directory might be expected. During this time, through the contrivance of Talleyrand's friend Mme. de Villette, the Americans were approached by three agents of the foreign minister—Jean Conrad Hottinguer, a Swiss; a Mr. Bellamy, an American financier living in Hamburg; and Lucien Hauteval, also a Swiss (designated mysteriously as X, Y, and Z, respectively, in President Adams' subsequent report to Congress). As a price for negotiations between the two governments, the French emissaries demanded a bribe of about $250,000 (to be paid to Talleyrand), a large official loan from the United States, and an apology for certain references to France in a recent speech by Adams. Although bribery was not an unknown adjunct to the diplomacy of that day—particularly where Talleyrand was concerned—the Americans found the proposition totally unacceptable. (Pinckney's supposed retort, "Millions for defense, sir, but not one cent for tribute," is the origin of the famed shibboleth, although the words were NOT his. Pinckney did, however, exclaim at one point in the conversations: "No! No! Not a sixpence!")"

  • 4 years ago


    Source(s): Lookup Unknown Callers
  • 1 decade ago

    This statement was made during the XYZ Affair under President John Adams when France and Britain were at war. We were trying to talk to France but they wouldn't listen unless we gave them a $250,000 tribute (much, much more then that it is now). The Americans, outraged, said hell no and shouted out "millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago


    Can anyone explain the motto "Millions for defense, but not on e cent for tribute"?

    Can anyone explain the origins of the phrase?

    Who said that?

    And to what does it mean by "not one cent for tribute"?

    No tribute for whom/what?

    Source(s): explain motto quot millions defense cent tribute quot:
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  • Tina
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    For the best answers, search on this site

    Sounds like something Julius Caesar would say. But it was some guy named Pinckney speaking about a demand from the Fench.

  • 1 decade ago

    The origins of this was the tribute paid by the US to the Barbary pirates (today the coast of North Africa) for safe passage of US ships. The timeline is around 1777-1812 if my memory serves me.

    the result was that the money was paid, and US ships were attacked anyway, and their crews enslaved. The Barbary pirates proposed that US pay them more money, then the ships would be safer in the future.

    Then came the phrase you quote.

    After that the barbary pirates got lots of cannon balls from the US navy and the marines (hence "the shores of Tripoli" in the marine's song).

    Funny thing is- no US ship was attacked afterwards for about 120 years. Seems even pirates can learn, when given a "subtle" hint...

    The original such situation was the "Danegeld" paid by the Angles to the Vikings as tribute for not raiding England. All they got was more Vikings demanding more money. "If you once pay the Danegeld, how do you get rid of the Danes"?

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    I'm going to take a wild guess and say it was Thomas Jefferson. Wasn't he the president when the USA had trouble with the Barbary pirates of North Africa?

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