I’ve always enjoyed a good quote. Fitting a nugget of wisdom or humor into a neat little package is perfect for my often too-busy brain. For years, I kept a little notebook of quotes, adding new gems as I discovered them.
If you listen closely, you’ll notice many speeches include famous, inspirational or witty quotes to help the speaker make his or her point. And, of course, many famous quotes are pulled from speeches — from Martin Luther King Jr. to Winston Churchill and everywhere between.
Presidents make more speeches than most anyone else. In theory, a president is wise, experienced and a quick thinker. When a president speaks, people listen.
Over the years, presidents have provided countless sound bites and quotes worthy of remembering; they have a unique opportunity to influence and inspire people.
William McKinley said, “That’s all a man can hope for during his lifetime — to set an example — and when he is dead, to be an inspiration for history.”
Or, as John Adams put it, “The influence of each human being on others in this life is a kind of immortality.”
Many quotes by our Founding Fathers have stood the test of time and still ring true. One of my favorites is from Thomas Jefferson: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Good principles never go out of style, even when they represent the unpopular opinion.
George Washington’s advice is still spot-on and something most of us aim to teach our children: “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ‘tis better to be alone than in bad company.”
In light of recent debates about gun rights versus gun ownership, mandated health care, higher taxes, more handouts and other issues that could be considered “big government,” Gerald Ford’s words are full of warning. He said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”
In the same vein, Jefferson said, “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.”
When proposed legislation threatens free speech, we can again recall the words of Washington: “If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
Presidents often allude to the moral character to which we collectively aspire. Lyndon B. Johnson said, “Doing what’s right isn’t the problem. It is knowing what’s right.”
Martin Van Buren cautioned, “It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.”
Abraham Lincoln warned against the inclination to turn the other cheek when he said, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”
A president, ideally, exemplifies and symbolizes leadership. According to Dwight D. Eisenhower, leadership is “the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Let that one sink in a little.
John Quincy Adams defined a leader this way: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
Ronald Reagan’s sense of humor was legendary. He was extraordinarily quick-witted, with a knack for delivery. After an assassination attempt in 1981, Reagan was being wheeled into the operating room when he quipped to doctors, “I hope you’re all Republicans.”
He also famously said, “I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency — even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting.”
Reagan, who turned 70 shortly after his first inauguration, often poked fun at himself; he explained, “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.”
We must never forget to honor the work of the men who have served our nation as president. They helped build our great nation through their service and sacrifices.
As John Quincy Adams declared, “Posterity: you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it.”
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community activist.