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Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

NUMBER: 1543
AUTHOR: Quintus Tullius Cicero (c. 102–43 B.C.)
QUOTATION: All men have a feeling, that they would rather you told them a civil lie than give them a point blank refusal…. If you make a promise, the thing is still uncertain, depends on a future day, and concerns but few people; but if you refuse you alienate people to a certainty and at once, and many people too.
ATTRIBUTION: QUINTUS TULLIUS CICERO, “On Standing for the Consulship,” section 12.—The Treatises of M. T. Cicero, trans. C. D. Yonge, pp. 499, 500 (1872).

This work, also known as the “Handbook of Electioneering,” was addressed to Marcus Tullius Cicero, the author’s brother. Another translation of the passage is: “Human nature being what it is, all men prefer a false promise to a flat refusal. At the worst the man to whom you have lied may be angry. That risk, if you make a promise, is uncertain and deferred, and it affects only a few. But if you refuse you are sure to offend many, and that at once.”—H. J. Haskell, The New Deal in Old Rome, p. 169 (1939).
SUBJECTS: Promises