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Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

AUTHOR: James Eli Watson (1864–1948)
QUOTATION: If you can’t lick ’em, jine ’em.
ATTRIBUTION: Attributed to Senator JAMES E. WATSON.—Frank R. Kent, Senator James E. Watson, The Atlantic Monthly, February 1932, p. 188, calls this “one of his favorite sayings.”

Watson did not use this saying in his memoirs, As I Knew Them (1936), but on p. 274 he did say, “All legislation of consequence is a series of compromises, and there are many trades and deals among the senators in order to get important measures through. These trades are not of a sinister nature at all, but are entirely permissible by the highest standards of legislation and morals … Every legislator understands that no measure of importance ever could be passed without this give-and-take policy being practiced to the limit.”

The saying has been used by a number of writers, usually with variations in wording. Quentin Reynolds, The Wounded Don’t Cry, p. 23 (1941), uses the same wording. John Martin, “The Return from Manila,” Ken, May 18, 1939, p. 15, uses “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Niven Busch, Duel in the Sun, p. 76 (1944, reprinted 1947), uses “if you can’t whip ’em, join ’em.”

Watson’s “long association with politics began at the age of twelve when he accompanied his father to the Republican national convention of 1876…. He first won public office in 1894” when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.—Dictionary of American Biography, supplement 4, p. 861.
SUBJECTS: Compromise