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Memorable Quotes From 13 Great American Presidents

I have Masters degrees in National Security & Strategic Studies, Air & Space Studies, and Aeronautical Science. I am interested in history.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

— Theodore Roosevelt in The Kansas City Star, 7 May 1918

Memorable Quotes From 13 Great American Presidents

The US has had many outstanding presidents, people of consequence, driven men who did many things for the greater good of our country, and sometimes for the world. Most presidents have been well-read, well-educated and well-spoken. Additionally, during their respective terms as president, and in their lives before and after the presidency, they shared some profound and inspirational thoughts on leadership, democracy and the human condition.

Here in this article, gathered together in one place, are a few memorable quotes from each of 13 of our nation’s greatest chief executives.

#13 - Ronald Wilson Reagan – Republican

Ronald Reagan was the 40th president. He was in office from 20 Jan 1981 to 20 Jan 1989.

Reagan implemented sweeping economic changes, which came to be called Reaganomics, and he played a major role in bringing about an end to the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. [1]

He was an outstanding public speaker who could paint with words his ideas on a canvas so everyone could understand the concepts. Because of this, he was often referred to as The Great Communicator.

Quotes attributed to President Reagan:

The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.

Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided upon is being carried out.

No president who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure.

— James K. Polk

#12 - James Knox Polk – Democrat

James Polk was the 11th president. He was in office from 4 March 1845 to 4 March 1849.

At the time he was president, Polk was considered the most successful holder of the office since George Washington. Polk set out to acquire the Oregon and New Mexico Territories, as well as California. He also aimed to settle the Texas border dispute. He accomplished all of those goals and is therefore credited with having brought the idea of Manifest Destiny to its logical conclusion.

Quotes attributed to President Polk:

I am heartily rejoiced that my term is so near its close. I will soon cease to be a servant and will become a sovereign.

No president who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure.

I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.

— Woodrow Wilson

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#11 – Thomas Woodrow Wilson – Democrat

Woodrow Wilson was the 28th president. He was in office from 4 March 1913 to 4 March 1921.

Wilson is perhaps most famous for doing an about face on his campaign position of US neutrality, and then leading the US into and through the Great War (World War I). He gets three quotes here because he is credited with several really good ones throughout his term and life. More to the point, though: His “make the world safe for democracy” quote, which he made while giving his go-to-war pitch to Congress in April 1917, is ubiquitous. Ubiquity gets him three.

Quotes attributed to President Wilson:

The world must be made safe for democracy.

There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.

I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.

#10 - John Fitzgerald Kennedy – Democrat

JFK was the 35th president. He was in office from 20 January 1961 to 22 November 1963.

JFK served for a relatively short time, but he had an outsized impact on the US and the world. Because he said and wrote a lot of profound and memorable things, he also gets three quotes included here.

We are all lucky that JFK was in the lead as the world made its way to—and, thankfully, back from—the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was also a strong civil rights advocate, promoting inclusive employment policies and banning segregation in federal housing. He likely would have done much more if his life had not been cut short by an assassin’s bullet.

Here are a few quotes attributed to Jack Kennedy:

Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.


When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one-gun salutes, all those things. You have to remember it isn't for you. It's for the Presidency.

— Harry S. Truman

#9 - Harry S. Truman – Democrat

Harry Truman was the 33rd president. He was in office from 12 April 1945 to 20 January 1953.

It is hard to fathom the enormity of the moment when Harry Truman found out about the atomic bomb. The sitting president—FDR—had just died, and Truman was sworn in as the new president. Before day’s end, he also learned that there was underway development of an atomic bomb, a project code-named Manhattan. It was not a terribly long time from April, when he found out about the weapon, to August, when he ordered Airmen to drop two of them on Japan. That alone makes Truman a president of significant consequence.

If that was all Truman presided over during his time in office, he would forever be remembered as one of the most influential chief executives ever. But it was far from his only contribution to the greater good. Indeed, he accomplished oh-so-much more in his time at the helm:

“In the remaining 7 1/2 years of his presidency, he also established the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, undertook the Berlin Airlift, supported the establishment of the United Nations and NATO, recognized the newly declared state of Israel, desegregated the armed forces and the federal workforce, and reinforced civilian supremacy over the military.” [2]

By all accounts, Truman was a thoughtful, decisive and influential leader and president.

The following quotes are attributed to Harry S. Truman:

When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one-gun salutes, all those things. You have to remember it isn't for you. It's for the Presidency.

Every political battle I have I fight with everything I’ve got, and when it’s over I get hold of my opponent and we have a bourbon and branch and say, “What can we do for the country?”