help me place this quote

One of the American founding fathers had a quote, from their journal or autobiography, that went (loosely paraphrased):

If you are comfortable around the company you keep, then they are probably not challenging you.

I’m thinking it was Jefferson or Franklin but I’m having no luck with my google-fu. Can anybody place this or ideally provide a cite for the quote, please?!


Well, I took this as a good excuse to run around at Wikiquote, one of my favorite places ever; and I’ve been busy for an hour, but the closest I’ve gotten is this, and I know it’s not it:

“Character is so largely affected by associations that we cannot afford to be indifferent as to who and what our friends are. They write their names in our albums, but they do more, they help make us what we are. Be therefore careful in selecting them; and when wisely selected, never sacrifice them.”
~ M. Hulburd
But at least you get a <bump.>

This is not true.

A toltec book I have states that a person should keep the impeccable word, or pure honesty with himself and with all others, at all times. This it says, will defend us from insults judged dishonest by our longtime considered opinions, after we do much philosophical work to get to ours.

Whereas philosophy is a learning experience, as in both people should together eventually agree, it is not combat, or the harassment of another’s beliefs, which is black magic.

I think I’ve read a quote from Emerson that encapsulates this idea. I’m not having much luck finding it right now, but I’ll keep looking.

Not quite what you have in mind, but this bit of advice from George Washington to his nephew in a letter from March 23, 1789, is similar:

…when you have leisure to go into company that it should always be of the best kind that the place you are in will afford; by this means you will be constantly improving your manners and cultivating your mind while you are relaxing from your books; and good company will always be found much less expensive than bad. You cannot offer, as an excuse for not using it, that you cannot gain admission there; or that you have not a proper attention paid you in it: this is an apology made only by those whose manners are disgusting, or whose character is exceptionable; neither of which I hope will ever be said of you…

I think that it’s very unlikely that the quotation you give comes from one of the Founding Fathers. The sentiment sounds too modern for that. Indeed, the wording sounds too recent for that. After doing a little Googling, I found this quotation from Bernice Johnson Reagon:

“If you’re in a coalition and you’re comfortable, you know it’s not a broad enough coalition”

This is Reagon’s Wikipedia entry:

It could be someone other than Reagon who said the particular quotation that you give, but if so, it’s probably someone fairly recent, not a historical figure.

Pretty sure it was a founding father or contemporary thereof. Who was it that strove to eliminate vices by keeping a journal, perhaps based on the seven deadly sins?, and journaled where they had fallen short every day on each vice/virtue?

They ended up deciding it was impossible to be perfect, and useless to catalogue every failure to be so, but the lesson was to keep striving towards it even if it was unattainable…

The quote, as I remember, was from the biography or autobiography of same.

Thanks for all the input!

That was definitely Franklin. Don’t remember that quotation, or anything like it, being attributed to him, though. I’ll check my books at home.

I’m sorry, but I don’t see any relationship between writing a journal in which one talks about where one has fallen short on one’s attempts at each of the virtues and deciding to keep different company because the company that one presently keeps aren’t challenging one enough. Franklin may have kept such a journal about his attempts at virtues (that sounds familiar to me), but that has nothing to do with his supposed recommendation to keep the right company (which doesn’t sound familiar at all).

I couldn’t find anything like the OP’s quotation either in my Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (15th ed.) or the Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations.’s search function also failed me. Sorry!