Signers Update: Did Daddy Rush Plagiarize T.R. Fehrenbach?

Chatterbox earlier questioned whether the urban legend about the fates of the signers of the Declaration of Independence–whose publication-without-attribution by Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby led to Jacoby’s suspension–passed from radio’s Paul Harvey (who published it in a 1956 book) to Rush Limbaugh Jr. (father of radio’s Rush Limbaugh III), or from Limbaugh to Harvey. (Click here and here and here to read Chatterbox’s previous entries about this.) But that now appears to have been the wrong question.

Jim Elbrecht, who maintains the Signer’s Index Web page (which is dedicated to tracking down every version of the legend), has been pursuing a new angle focused on T.R. Fehrenbach, author of the much-admired Texas history Lone Star. (Fehrenbach is now a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News.) It seems that a 1965 magazine article by Fehrenbach about the fate of the signers was recycled into the Congressional Record on June 30 by Sen. Strom Thurmond, “as a reminder of the sacrifices made for our freedom.” Having surveyed Fehrenbach’s text (and also a book Fehrenbach originally published in 1968 titled Greatness To Spare, which Elbrecht says contains most of what’s in the article), Elbrecht concludes that about 60 percent of it is identical to Daddy Rush’s version!

Did Daddy Rush swipe from Fehrenbach, or did Fehrenbach swipe from Daddy Rush? Fehrenbach says in no uncertain terms: “I did not take anything from Rush Limbaugh [III], and I never heard of his father. … As far as Paul Harvey, the same way. I didn’t listen to Paul Harvey in them days.” Fehrenbach says that when his 1965 article was published in American Legion magazine, the editors were swamped with requests for reprints. “Some student somewhere in Missouri plagiarized whole sections,” he recalls, “and won a prize with it.”

Fehrenbach’s version repeats some of the errors found in other versions, including the destruction of Thomas Nelson’s house. (For Elbrecht’s line-by-line analysis, click here.) Chatterbox now believes that Fehrenbach and Harvey were working off the same faulty source material, and that Daddy Rush helped himself to Fehrenbach’s article. (Fehrenbach told Chatterbox that he didn’t use anything that post-dated 1900.) “I can’t defend absolutely every fact stated,” Fehrenbach says, “but they were all sourced.” He says he used “the old insurance claim system–if it’s 51 percent true, it is accepted as true, and if it’s 49 percent true and 51 percent false, I don’t use it.”

Chatterbox has promised his editor he won’t write about this anymore.