Presidential Quotes Iconic Quotes from United States Presidents

Published by: Carolyn Brooks Fleming on May 5, 2020.

Obama on phone in White House meeting

Introduction

What makes someone worthy of being president of the United States? Persuasiveness? Good public speaking? A strong stance? An eloquent speaker? Each president has won over the majority of America for a reason, even if we don't agree with him or his policies.

At Famous Quotes, we've compiled a list of some of the most memorable ones from some of the most memorable presidents in history. Some of them will inspire. Some will remind you of an important time in history. And others will make you think, "What the hell?"

 

George Washington

"There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."

George Washington is the first president, so it only makes sense to start with him. These words are actually from his first annual address, made in 1790. Presidents have since used these speeches to discuss the importance of education and school or why the US needs more job opportunities.

For Washington, his focus was on science and literature and how the quest for knowledge is what will make the public happy. This still rings true today. Even with the barrage of fake news all over social media, citizens are always looking for the truth.

 

Thomas Jefferson

"Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day."

This is actually the first of ten quotes in a list titled, "A Decalogue of Canons for Observation in Practical Life." This list was a mixture of quotes Jefferson came up with himself and ones he took from classical literary sources. Some of the others include: 

  • Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  • Never spend your money before you have it.
  • Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold. 
  • Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly. 

Overall, this list seemed to have a focus on common sense and gluttony. Jefferson didn't seem to be a fan of people who splurged just because things were cheap or ate so much food they'd regret it later. Instead, he advised to be smart with money and not rely on others to get things done — and don't wait to get things done.

 

John Quincy Adams

"Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost."

No, this is not a quote from a "Bernie bro" telling you to write "Bernie Sanders" onto the ballot come November, although it very well could have been. According to the Constitution Center, John Quincy Adams was the one to say these wise words during a time when the country was divided over the economy, slavery and states' rights. Adams also became the first and only ex-president to serve in the US House of Representatives, championing abolition and emancipation.

Politics are still crazy to this day and it can be hard to know what the right thing to do is. Just listen to John Quincy Adams and vote for which candidate's policies and principles you can stand by the most, even if you don't think they will win. Your vote is never truly lost, he said, if you vote to reflect your own opinions and viewpoint. That's what voting is for, after all. 

Image of Mount Rushmore

 

Andrew Jackson

"I try to live my life as if death might come for me at any moment."

Okay, Andrew Jackson may not be the most memorable president on this list, but we can't not include this quote. Not only is it a great way to live — no regrets — but Jackson actually beat up a would-be assassin in 1835 with his cane and that's a story we just couldn't skip over.

 

Millard Fillmore

"An honorable defeat is better than a dishonorable victory."

This is definitely a great quote to live by. It's a straightforward sentiment that really needs no further explanation. Basically, be a good person. Play fair. But we put this quote in because, well, did you even know there was a president named Millard Fillmore? Well, Famous Quotes does and we have the quotes to prove it!

 

Abraham Lincoln

"I am rather inclined to silence, and whether that be wise or not, it is at least more unusual nowadays to find a man who can hold his tongue than to find one who cannot."

Abraham Lincoln was known to be an introvert and this quote definitely supports that sentiment. According to Secretary John G. Nicolay, Abraham Lincoln would sometimes "sit for an hour in complete silence" while pondering questions. It's probably safe to say that Lincoln would not have a Twitter if he were president in this day and age.

Related: Abraham Lincoln Quotes

 

Grover Cleveland

"I know that I am honest and sincere in my desire to do well; but the question is whether I know enough to accomplish what I desire."

This is one of the most honest self-reflective statements we've seen in a long time. A lot of times, we mean well. We want to do well. We want to change something for the better or accomplish something amazing. But sometimes we don't question whether or not we know enough to do so. It's important to gather the facts and find out what you personally are capable of accomplishing. Of course, you should always push yourself. Just don't give yourself unattainable goals that won't benefit you or others.

Grover Cleveland said this gem in a letter to his brother on the day of the election for the governor of New York. He actually did end up winning. You can, too. In fact, Cleveland became the only president in history to win two non-consecutive terms. So definitely don't underestimate yourself.

 

Warren G. Harding

"America's present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration."

Apparently, this quote did not ring true at all. Warren G. Harding is currently known as the worst president of all time so this was probably not what America wanted at all. He was known to "avoid issues" whenever possible, failing to make any sort of impact the nation needed.

 

Calvin Coolidge

"No man ever listened himself out of a job."

When it comes to a good quote, sometimes we need motivation. Sometimes we need something inspiring and uplifting. Sometimes we just want something funny. Reader's Digest had this quote on a list of funniest quotes from US presidents and it's easy to see why.

President Coolidge sort of created his own persona at the time: that of a disinterested president who came off a bit lazy. This could have definitely backfired, but Coolidge managed to pull it off, which is quite awe-inspiring itself.

Related: Morning Quotes You Need to Hear to Have a Good Day

 

Franklin D. Roosevelt

"We must be the great arsenal of democracy. For us, this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war."

As USA Today reports, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered this famous quote during a fireside chat in 1940. Since then, it's become one of the most famous quotes from the World War II era. Roosevelt was explaining how the USA should provide more support to Great Britain instead of appealing to Adolf Hitler.

"There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb," he had continued. "We know now that a nation can have peace with Nazis only at the price of total surrender."

 

John F. Kennedy

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

Classic.

US President, President James Earl Carter

 

Jimmy Carter

"We have a tendency to condemn people who are different from us, to define their sins as paramount and our own sinfulness as being insignificant."

Jimmy Carter said this gem in an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle back in 1997. He discussed his time as governor, when he had to deal with same-sex marriage, abortion and the death penality in a "legal way." He called them "societal challenges" that each individual worshiper must interpret for themselves.

George W. Bush standing on lectern during daytime

 

George W. Bush

"These stories about my intellectual capacity really get under my skin. For a while, I even though my staff believed it. There on my schedule, first thing every morning, it said 'Intelligence Briefing'."

Here's another brilliant example of a president using self-deprecating humor and creating a persona to really connect with the American people. Because of the way he spoke, a lot of people around the nation questioned Bush's intelligence. Instead of getting offended, Bush made jokes, which won over a lot of people, even ones that didn't agree with his policies.

Bush wasn't the greatest president ever, but those George W. Bush impressions on TV and in the movies will live on forever as comedy gold.

 

Barack Obama

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."

President Obama is known as one of the best public speakers to live in the White House thus far. Like Bush before him, he had a balance of humor and inspiration that many Americans could get behind, politics aside. This was considered one of his most inspiring quotes during his presidency and it's not hard to see why. His entire presidency was about change — and that's something that resonated with a lot of people.

 

Donald Trump

"As long as you're going to be thinking anyway, think big."

This is definitely a quote you'd expect to hear from a businessman. Donald Trump won over his fans with his blunt statements and focus on business and "draining the swamp." It's these catchy phrases and mottos that have kept Trump quoteworthy throughout his presidency, despite his controversial antics and policies.

US flag waving on pole

 

Conclusion

Some of the most memorable quotes from the past few hundred years have been from United States presidents. That's because these are people the majority of Americans have deemed likeable for one reason or another, whether it be their charisma and charm or their persuasiveness and inspirational speeches. Whether we like — and remember — them all or not, presidents will forever be a great source of quotes for all occasions. That's why we have so many of them on Famous Quotes. Discover some funny or motivational presidential quotes of your own today.