Fact Check

Did Churchill Say 'Success Is Not Final, Failure Is Not Fatal'?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attributed the quote to Winston Churchill, who in fact never uttered those words.

Published Jan 22, 2024

 (Screenshot via X)
Image Via Screenshot via X
Claim:
Winston Churchill once said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

On Jan. 21, 2024, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the end of his 2024 presidential campaign via a video message posted on X (formerly Twitter), featuring a quote he said came from U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

According to DeSantis' post, the famed wartime British politician, who served two terms as prime minister in the 1940s and the 1950s, allegedly said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

A X post from Ron DeSantis states that Winston Churchill said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts." Below, Ron DeSantis — a white man wearing a suit — can be seen speaking in a video. (@RonDeSantis/X)

There is no evidence connecting the above quote to Churchill, who died in 1965. Neither the U.K.-based International Churchill Society nor Richard Langworth, a senior fellow at the Churchill Project of Hillsdale College in Michigan, was able to located such evidence.

We reached out to DeSantis' team, asking for its original source for the attribution, and we will update this story if we receive a response.

DeSantis may be the most famous person to wrongly attribute the quote to Churchill, but was certainly not the first. Various online posts and Goodreads, an online database of books, quotes and reviews, have repeated the claim for years.

We input variations of the quote into the Churchill Archives Center’s digital repository housed at the University of Cambridge. Those searches did not return any connection to Churchill. Quote Investigator, a site that looks into the origin of popular quotes, also did not find a connection between the quote and Churchill.

The International Churchill Society, which describes itself as a “member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill,” explicitly debunked the rumor in a list of quotes erroneously attributed to Churchill on its website. The organization highlighted variations of the quote, writing:

‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ And also, ‘Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.’

We can find no attribution for either one of these, and you will find that they are broadly attributed to Winston Churchill. They are found nowhere in his canon, however. An almost equal number of sources found online credit these sayings to Abraham Lincoln—but we have found none that provides any attribution in the Lincoln Archives.

In another post on the society's website, it described how it made its conclusions: “We base this on careful research in the canon of fifty million words by and about Churchill, including all of his books, articles, speeches and papers.” It noted Churchill said or wrote similar quotes about success (additional hyperlinks from us): “Churchill did say: 'No one can guarantee success in war, but only deserve it.' (Their Finest Hour, London: Cassell, 1949, 434). And he did say: 'Success always demands a greater effort.' (Note to Robert Menzies, same volume, page 541).”

Langworth also debunked the alleged quote in a post on his website saying Churchill never said such a thing. Langworth wrote on his site that Churchill did speak about “success” in other ways, however (additional hyperlinks from us):

Churchill said much about success in life and politics, but he is frequently misquoted. His genuine quotations on the subject are less often heard. Here are some of the things that he actually said, confirmed in Churchill By Himself –in chronological order, with citations:

'You must put your head into the lion’s mouth if the performance is to be a success.' –19 February 1900, South Africa, London to Ladysmith via Pretoria, 1900.

'…do not be carried away by success into demanding more than is right or prudent.' —House of Commons, 3 March 1919

'Do not be fobbed off with mere personal success or acceptance. You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true, and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her. She was made to be wooed and won by youth. She has lived and thrived only by repeated subjugations.' –My Early Life, 1930

'…no boy or girl should ever be disheartened by lack or success in their youth but should diligently and faithfully continue to persevere and make up for lost time.' –Speech, University of Miami (Fla.), 26 February 1946

'Success always demands a greater effort.' –13 December 1940 to Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, Their Finest Hour, 1949

'…no one can guarantee success in war, but only deserve it.' —Their Finest Hour, 1949

The true originator of the quote — that is, who really said or authored it first — is unknown. Quote Investigator hypothesized in a 2013 article that the quote “evolved from simpler partial statements during a multi-year process.” That site also found a close approximation of the quote in a printed beer commercial from the 1930s:

In 1938 an advertisement for Budweiser beer was printed in multiple newspapers. The text included an instance of the saying that closely matched the modern version. This is the earliest such match known to QI; hence, it is possible that the expression was constructed by a copywriter for an advertising series of the Anheuser-Busch brewing company. The ellipsis was in the original text: “Men with the spirit of youth pioneered our America … men with vision and sturdy confidence. They found contentment in the thrill of action, knowing that success was never final and failure never fatal. It was courage that counted. Isn’t opportunity in America today greater than it was in the days of our grateful forefathers? Good!”

We found a copy of the advertisement in question via Newspapers.com, an online database of newspaper archives. It was printed in a September 1938 issue of the Wichita Falls Times:


(Wichita Falls Times/Newspapers.com)

While it was unclear if that advertisement put the quote into public consciousness, or if there was a different creator, we know Churchill was not the statement's original source.

Gunning for the Republican nomination for president, DeSantis was once considered a viable contender to former U.S. President Donald Trump. However, his campaign floundered as he struggled to connect with voters, many of whom refused to switch support from Trump, and his campaign faced financial troubles and internal divisions. He concluded it by endorsing Trump in the video featuring the misattributed Churchill quote.

Sources

Fichera, Angelo. “DeSantis Appears to Misattribute a Quote to Churchill as He Drops Out of Primary.” The New York Times, 21 Jan. 2024. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/21/us/politics/desantis-churchill-quote.html. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.

Knowles, Hannah, and Josh Dawsey. “Ron DeSantis Ends Presidential Campaign, Endorses Trump.” Washington Post, 22 Jan. 2024. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/01/21/ron-desantis-drops-out/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.

Langworth, Richard M. “Success: What Churchill REALLY Said.” Richard M. Langworth, 6 May 2019, https://richardlangworth.com/success. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.

Langworth, Richard. “‘Surely Churchill Said That?’ The Expanding Lexicon of the Fake Quote.” The Churchill Project - Hillsdale College, 26 Aug. 2021, https://winstonchurchill.hillsdale.edu/fake-churchill-quote/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.

“Media Matters.” International Churchill Society, 4 July 2013, https://winstonchurchill.org/publications/finest-hour/finest-hour-136/media-matters/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.

“Quotes Falsely Attributed to Winston Churchill.” International Churchill Society, 17 Jan. 2023, https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/quotes/quotes-falsely-attributed/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.

“Ron DeSantis Ends Presidential Campaign before New Hampshire Primary.” ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/ron-desantis-ends-presidential-campaign-new-hampshire-primary/story?id=106551804. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.

"Success Is Never Final and Failure Never Fatal. It’s Courage That Counts." Quote Investigator®. 3 Sept. 2013, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/09/03/success-final/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.

Wichita Falls Times, 21 Sept. 1938, p. 14. newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/article/wichita-falls-times-churchill-fake-quote/139319954/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.