Article: 25 Presidential Quotes We'll Never Forget: HowStuffWorks
25 Presidential Quotes We'll Never Forget
By: Lauren Lubas
Image: Wikicommons by White House Photographic Office
About This Article
It's pretty clear that our most inspirational leaders weren't just amazing politicians who knew how to help those in need domestically and approach foreign enemies; they also delivered powerful and memorable speeches that we still carry with us today. These speeches gave the country hope in times of despair, peace in times of war and courage in times of peril. A strong, united country is only as strong as its leader — no matter where on the political spectrum that leader stands.
For this reason, it's important to remember how the country's leaders have kept America together in times of chaos and terror. Looking more closely at what these presidents were saying and how their words affected the country reveals something about our innate need to hear a powerful leader tell us everything is going to be all right. We want a president whose words will help maintain peace and happiness within our borders and around the world.
This article contains 25 memorable quotes from past presidents. If you don't recognize some, you will be able to see how the messages evolved over the years, showing us exactly what it means to be an American. Take a look at what some of the most powerful leaders in history have said to the public and what their words actually mean.
If You Want It, Give It
It's amazing how the words of our forefathers come back to us in our times of need. As an example, Abraham Lincoln wrote, "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God, cannot long retain it." These words should remind us, to this day, that there are people who don't have the freedom and equality that the rest of us have, and it is our duty to fight for them.
For the Sake of It
While we are often taught that we should give credit where credit is due, Harry S. Truman had something to say about that. He said, "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." He was encouraging cooperation for the greater good, rather than individual effort for glory. If we focus on getting the job done rather than making sure we are seen for our deeds, we will get the job done better and faster.
Teddy Roosevelt was one tough president. He traveled the country and fought in many battles, leading the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. When it came to failure, he said, "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed." This means that we should not cower at the thought of failing, as we will feel much worse if we don't even try or make an effort toward success.
Better Use of Funds
It was clear that Dwight D. Eisenhower hated the idea of war for profit, and he even went so far as to attack the military-industrial complex in his speeches. No matter how people felt about party lines, when Eisenhower said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," every American nodded their head.
Just One Man's Opinion
These days, you don't hear much from presidents about the importance of rebellion, but back in the day, Thomas Jefferson said, "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." Upstanding citizens have a duty to demand change when it is needed and to speak out against the government when it is necessary.
The President's Duties
According to Lyndon B. Johnson, "A president's hardest task is not to do what is right, but to know what is right." Presidents have been known to spin words, create odd double standards and twist things around to get people to believe them, and Johnson was a master of this. However, it's only possible to deliberately choose the right path after you analyze all options.
We Got This
Barack Obama gave some inspiring speeches in his day, and when he said: "We are the change that we seek," everyone was forced to look within themselves. The speech was all about remembering that no one is here to change the world for you. The world can only change if each of us begins on an individual level.
When a president says, "Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all," there is a sense that the world is bigger than just our country. America's allies and those we seek to trade with should always be treated with respect and peace — that's what George Washington said. Since our Founding Fathers were focused on foreign policy, perhaps we should be as well.
And Yet, Here We Are
Despite the warning from Andrew Jackson that "It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their own selfish purposes," we are currently living in a world where lobbyists have more control than they ever should. The exchange of millions of dollars in this legal form of bribery harms American taxpayers who are affected by the changes (or lack thereof) that occur as a result.
What Makes a Hero
No president liked to talk about heroes and bravery more than Ronald Reagan. He was noted as saying, "Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They're just braver five minutes longer." This profound line explains why many who have been given the title of hero claim that they don't feel like heroes. Heroism sometimes begins by being in the right (or wrong) place at the right time.
Consider Those Who Create
Benjamin Harrison said, "I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process." This was clearly an observation about the nature of justice and the social norms of Harrison's time. This quotation is also something that we should consider as we import products from other countries for the sheer joy of getting them for a good price.
The Mind Is Mightier Than the Sword
Although Bill Clinton's most memorable speech revolved around his personal life, he did have some great quotes that any American could follow, no matter their political affiliation. When he said, "We must teach our children to resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons," he spoke a universal truth that resonates today.
Procrastination Is Bad, Mmmkay?
There are a lot of great quotes from presidents about the value of the work you do, but few took on the topic of procrastination better than Abraham Lincoln did when he said, "Leave nothing for tomorrow that can be done today." After his tragic assassination, these words seem to bear more weight — no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. This quote reminds us that there is no good reason to put things off, especially if it's work that needs to be done.
The Policy of Honesty
George Washington, having learned of a faction in Kentucky that planned to join the British, responded with: "Truth will ultimately prevail where pains is [sic] taken to bring it to light." Although the quote was specifically meant to discredit the faction, it holds true today. As long as there are those who seek the truth, it will always find a way to surface, from whistleblowers or the media or someone in between.
Sadly, it seems some have forgotten the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt about peace in our world: "If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships — the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together, in the same world, at peace." This friendly reminder that we cannot live without at least a basic understanding of each other shows us that there is more to peace than signing treaties and documents.
Strength and Freedom
Freedom has been one of the most important concepts and themes throughout American history, although our track record is far from perfect. If a presidential candidate doesn't mention freedom at least once in a speech on the campaign trail, he won't do very well. Freedom is so important to Americans, because, as William Henry Harrison once said, "The strongest of all governments is that which is most free."
What We've Forgotten
"All is fair in love and war" isn't a quote that Millard Fillmore would have appreciated. As a matter of fact, he once said: "An honorable defeat is better than a dishonorable victory." Having honor and doing things the right way were more important to him than winning. Fillmore was talking about an election defeat at the time, but his sentiment could apply to warfare as well.
In the immortal words of Grover Cleveland: "A government for the people must depend for its success on the intelligence, the morality, the justice and the interest of the people themselves." Perhaps, somewhere along the way, we stopped paying attention to some important things, leaving "we the people" a little vulnerable to the mistakes of our politicians.
Theodore Roosevelt inspired people in many ways. When he said, "We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage," he was telling everyone that they and their country had a chance. If you dare to be great and strive for greatness, you will reach some form of greatness as a result.
Ain't It the Truth
Presidents have remarked on war throughout history, and Herbert Hoover was no different. He noted: "Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die. And it is youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war." This quote still resonates today. War must not be entered into lightly by those in power who will not have to fight, because younger men (and women) will face the harsh reality of battle and its consequences.
... And Then He Quit
Although Richard Nixon has quite the stain on his record, before the Watergate scandal he was considered one of the most popular presidents, and citizens from both parties liked him. Of course, one major issue can break a man, so perhaps the quote "A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits" is ironic, since Nixon resigned from office.
A Thought on Change
Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "Neither a wise man or a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him." This quote can be interpreted in various ways, but the most common consensus is that strong, intelligent people know that change is both essential and inevitable. No good comes from looking to the past while the future is always on its way.
A Criticism of Consumerism
While most presidents have encouraged people to stimulate the economy, Jimmy Carter had a different take. He said, "Piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose." While this may seem like the lesson learned at the end of a Christmas movie, Carter has lived by this philosophy since leaving office. Clearly, though, few others listened — consumerism is at an all-time high.
We Can Fix This
Every once in a while, we get a quote from a president that is meant to be inspirational but is instead overly optimistic. When George H.W. Bush said, "No problem of human making is too great to be overcome by human ingenuity, human energy and the untiring hope of the human spirit," he meant to inspire the human race to do better. However, it seems that climate change might prove him wrong after all.
Equal Means Equal for All
During the eight years when Barack Obama was president, social and political strides were made that no other president even wanted to attempt. This is because Obama believed that "The long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some."
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