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Who Said It? Quotes From Dictators and Presidents

FlourishAnyway is a psychologist interested in history and leadership.

Leaders -- both Presidents and dictators -- have significant first-hand insight on topics such as justice, revolution, leadership, government, and the human condition.

Leaders -- both Presidents and dictators -- have significant first-hand insight on topics such as justice, revolution, leadership, government, and the human condition.

Quotes from Dictators and Presidents

Quotes provide insight into the intent and character of the speaker. Especially during uncertain times, it can be clarifying to look at history for direction. But here's where things can go wonky. Sometimes malevolent rules have imparted shockingly keen advice while at other times well-regarded leaders have dispensed counsel that is foolhardy or vindictive.

Leaders step out front, take the reins, and show the way. They can do that either positively by encouraging collaboration, or as dictators by terrorizing their populations and bending the people to their will through violence and threats. Both types of national leaders—presidents and dictators—possess significant insight on topics such as justice, revolution, leadership, government, and the human condition. However, you may be as surprised as I was, about who said what.

Fidel Castro was Cuba's ruthless Marxist-Leninist leader for almost five decades.

Fidel Castro was Cuba's ruthless Marxist-Leninist leader for almost five decades.

Fidel Castro

  • "I have always fought for concrete facts, for justice."

  • "Men do not shape destiny. Destiny produces the man for the hour."

  • "A revolution is not a trail of roses. A revolution is a fight to the death between the future and the past."

Fidel Castro (1926-2016) was a Marxist–Leninist revolutionary who first served as Cuba's Prime Minister from the time of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 until 1976, then as President from 1976 until his retirement in 2008. Under Castro's leadership, Cuba was the first country in the Western Hemisphere to be converted to a one-party, socialist state under Communist Party rule.

Castro was known for his brutality. He set up labor camps, firing squad executions for anyone who dared to disagree with his regime, and oversaw mass murders as well as the execution of small children. Often condemned as a dictator, the divisive political leader also restricted the movement of the Cuban people and persecuted homosexuals as "worms," Jehovah’s Witnesses as "social deviants", and Catholics as "social scum."

American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson was third President of the United States, founder of University of Virginia, and author of the Declaration of Independence.

American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson was third President of the United States, founder of University of Virginia, and author of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson

  • "If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done."

  • "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."

  • "I have found one can never get anything in life that is worthwhile without fighting for it."

  • "The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest."

  • "The government you elect is the government you deserve."

American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson (1743-1846) was a statesman, architect, and diplomat who penned the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson served as Governor of Virginia and drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which was a precursor to the First Amendment of the United States.

He also served as the country's second Vice President (under John Adams), Minister to France, and third US President. A fierce advocate of education, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. The issue of slavery, however, brings controversy to this Founding Father's legacy. While Jefferson abolished the slave trade and voiced opposition to slavery, this famous advocate of the rights of man hypocritically owned around 600 slaves throughout his lifetime but freed only seven.1 He also fathered at least six children by his slave Sally Hemings. (Enslaved persons obviously cannot consent.)

Vladimir Lenin was a Marxist revolutionary who was elected by his party to serve as the first leader of the Soviet Union

Vladimir Lenin was a Marxist revolutionary who was elected by his party to serve as the first leader of the Soviet Union

Vladimir Lenin

  • "A lie told often enough becomes the truth."

  • "Give me just one generation of youth, and I'll transform the whole world."

  • "It is, of course, much easier to shout, abuse, and howl than to attempt to relate, to explain."

  • "Be as radical as reality."

Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) headed the Bolshevik (communist) party in Russia and seized control of the country's government in the Russian Revolution of 1917, putting an end to 350 years of czarist rule. The ensuing Russian Civil War unleashed "Red Terror," resulting in the deaths of 100,000-200,000 people.

In 1922, towards the end of the war, Lenin was elected by his party to serve as the first leader of the Soviet Union. It was the world's first communist state. He is regarded as the architect of the Soviet state. Lenin founded the Cheka, a merciless secret police organization that was a forerunner and model for Hitler's Gestapo. The atrocities that the Cheka inflicted included crowning people with barbed wire, scalping them, stoning them to death, and dunking victims in boiling water.

French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the world's greatest military commanders in history, but historians cannot agree whether he was more villain or hero.

French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the world's greatest military commanders in history, but historians cannot agree whether he was more villain or hero.

Napoleon Bonaparte

  • "The world suffers a lot. Not because the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of the good people."

  • "'Impossible' is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools."

  • "If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing."

  • "The only way to lead people is to show them a future: a leader is a dealer in hope."

French statesman and military commander Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was a short man whose oversized ego helped to fuel his meteoric rise to power. He ascended quickly through the military ranks during the French Revolution and eventually built a vast empire stretching across much of Europe. Although Napoleon is regarded as one of the greatest military commanders in history, there is disagreement as to whether he was more hero or villain.

Before crowning himself emperor, Napoleon held a rigged national referendum (called a "plebiscite") that suppressed naysaying by recording yes/no votes alongside citizens' names and addresses. He was also a micromanager who understood the value of public image, Napoleon controlled the press and oversaw a tightly controlled regime. It featured centralized power and a network of secret spies that reached into every corner of French society. He appointed his family to aristocratic positions and reinstated slavery and the slave trade in France and its colonies.

On the positive side, the French emperor also introduced important foundations for the modern state, with the Napoleonic Code being a particularly beneficial game-changer. The Code replaced a hodgepodge of feudal laws with a unified framework of civil laws. Since then, it has significantly influenced many other countries' legal systems. Contributions included freedom of religion, meritocracy of government jobs, equality under the law, abolishing feudalism, and legal divorce.

After serving 27 years in prison for opposing apartheid, revolutionary and activitist Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first Black democratically elected president.

After serving 27 years in prison for opposing apartheid, revolutionary and activitist Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first Black democratically elected president.

Nelson Mandela

  • "I never lose. I either win or learn."

  • “When the water starts boiling, it is foolish to turn off the heat.”

  • "When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw."

  • "Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you."

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was a Black nationalist and South African anti-apartheid revolutionary who served 27 years as a political prisoner for his opposition to the nation's apartheid system of racial segregation. He suffered forced labor, physical abuse, and solitary confinement for his principled activism. Upon release, Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk negotiated to dismantle apartheid, draw up a new Constitution, and transition to universal suffrage (the right to vote for all adult citizens). They shared a 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their collaborative work.

Mandela was democratically elected as the country's first Black president after more than three centuries of white rule. Admired as the father of democratic South Africa, he was an advocate for peace, reconciliation, and social justice.

John F. Kennedy served as 35th US President, one of the youngest in history and the first Roman-Catholic in the office. He served 1000 days before being assassinated.

John F. Kennedy served as 35th US President, one of the youngest in history and the first Roman-Catholic in the office. He served 1000 days before being assassinated.

John F. Kennedy

  • "Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names."

  • "Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be stronger men."

  • "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

  • “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

  • “Great crises produce great men and great deeds of courage.”

  • “It is compromise that prevents each set of reformers from crushing the group at the other end of the political spectrum.”

Born into one of the wealthiest families in America, John F. Kennedy used his Ivy League education, military service, and powerful personality to first become a Massachusetts Congressman and then a Senator. Kennedy was subsequently elected the 35th US President, one of the youngest in history and the first Roman-Catholic.

Kennedy served at height of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union. Some of the key highlights of his administration included the Cuban Missile Crisis, his establishment of the Peace Corps, the ill-fated Bay of Pigs, and his ambitious announced goal to go to the moon. JFK won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Profiles in Courage, known now to be largely ghostwritten. He was also known for his marital infidelity. Kennedy served for little more than 1000 days before being assassinated.

Mongolian warlord Ghengis Khan united nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia, built the largest empire in history, and gained control of much of the Silk road.  He also killed about 11% of the global population at the time.

Mongolian warlord Ghengis Khan united nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia, built the largest empire in history, and gained control of much of the Silk road. He also killed about 11% of the global population at the time.

Genghis Khan

  • "Violence never settles anything."

  • "An action committed in anger is an action doomed to failure."

  • "A leader can never be happy until his people are happy."

Formidable warlord Genghis Khan (1162-1227) unified the nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia. He then conquered enormous swaths of land in Eurasia—a 9 million square mile territory, the largest contiguous land empire in world history. In so doing, the Mongolian invader systematically slaughtered civilian populations, leaving a total of 40 million dead in his wake. This was more than 11% of the global population at the time.2 Genghis Khan fathered so many children that today approximately 1 in 200 men are direct line descendants.3

As ruler, Khan was a forward thinker, instituting freedom of religion, a system of meritocracy, and both a universal law and writing system. The Mongolian warrior-emperor also created one of the first international postal systems and importantly gained control over much of the Silk Road, the network of trade routes connecting East and West.

Woodrow Wilson was 28th US President. After leading the nation into World War I, he also helped to end it. Wilson helped to found the League of Nations.

Woodrow Wilson was 28th US President. After leading the nation into World War I, he also helped to end it. Wilson helped to found the League of Nations.

Woodrow Wilson

  • "The seed of revolution is repression."

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

  • "The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it."

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) triumphed over a severe learning disability to become the Governor of New Jersey and 28th US President from 1913-1921. A Democrat, Wilson was known as an antitrust crusader and established both the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Reserve.

He also led the country into World War I in 1917 and was subsequently awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his key role in ending WWI and helping to create the League of Nations, a predecessor of the United Nations. Wilson, however, has received rebuke for his support of racial segregation and white supremacy as well as the neglectful way that he faced the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

During World War II, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler embarked on a campaign of mass extermination of Jews in the interest of making Germany a racially pure nation.

During World War II, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler embarked on a campaign of mass extermination of Jews in the interest of making Germany a racially pure nation.

Adolph Hitler

  • "Make the lie big. Make it simple. Keep saying it, and eventually, people will believe it."

  • "​I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few."

  • “The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.”

  • "He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future."

If hatred begins at home, then German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) certainly had a good start. A slow learner who performed poorly in school, Hitler was the middle of six children and was severely beaten by his authoritarian father. The high school dropout was subsequently orphaned by the time he was 18. After failing as an artist, Hitler found his niche in the anti-Semitic vitriol of the Nazi party. Upbringing is no excuse, however, for the villain who eventually embarked on a systematic program of mass extermination of Jews.

An Austrian by birth, Hitler espoused German nationalist and socialist ideas, becoming Chancellor of Germany. The Nazi demagogue became known for his loud and emotional diatribes delivered before enormous crowds. Through a series of emergency decrees, he then became the country's dictator, then abolishing trade unions, passing the Nuremberg Laws, and invading Poland.

During World War II, Germany subsequently conquered or came to control much of continental Europe and formed alliances with Axis powers Italy and Japan. Hitler's diabolical mission was the genocide of the Jews in the interest of creating a racially pure nation, making Germany strong again. The Holocaust resulted in the savage deaths of 6 million Jews in concentration camps and by death squads. Additionally, about 5 million others belonging to the following groups were also executed as deviants or enemy nationals. These included: ethnic Poles and Ukrainians, Soviet civilians and POWs, Serbs, Jehovah's Witnesses, Black Germans, people with disabilities, gypsies, political and religious dissidents, criminals, and gay men.

Bill Clinton was the 42nd US President. He oversaw the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history. Clinton was the second President to be impeached.

Bill Clinton was the 42nd US President. He oversaw the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history. Clinton was the second President to be impeached.

Bill Clinton

  • "We must teach our children to resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons."

  • "If one candidate is appealing to your fears, and the other one's appealing to your hopes, you’d better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope!"

  • "The road to tyranny, we must never forget, begins with the destruction of the truth."

Being born in a place called Hope, Arkansas, apparently gave Bill Clinton (1946- ) the energetic head start he needed in life. Clinton became both the Governor of Arkansas and the 42nd US President (and of course, the husband of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator, Secretary of State, and 2016 Presidential candidate).

A centrist Democrat, Bill Clinton oversaw the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history. He is known for his personal charisma, tv-ready soundbites, and extraordinary rhetorical prowess. Indeed, Clinton earned the nickname "Explainer-in-Chief" because of his ability to explain Obamacare so simply and completely at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. However, Clinton is also known for his sexual scandals and for being the second president to be impeached.

Joseph Stalin was the brutal dictator of the Soviet Union for almost a quarter-century and was responsible for a reign of terror and famines that killed at least 20 million Russians.

Joseph Stalin was the brutal dictator of the Soviet Union for almost a quarter-century and was responsible for a reign of terror and famines that killed at least 20 million Russians.

Joseph Stalin

  • "I believe in one thing only, the power of human will."

  • "Death is the solution to all problems. No man—no problem."

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) was a brutal Marxist-Leninist dictator and Nazi sympathizer who ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist for 24 years, transforming it from a peasant society into a Communist industrial nation. However, 20 million or more of his own citizens perished in widespread famines and his reign of terror. The following groups were also systematically purged: clergy and political opponents, kulaks (wealthy peasants), homosexuals, gypsies, and certain ethnic groups.

To his credit, Stalin prevented Hitler from annexing the USSR and was instrumental in defeating Nazi Germany in WWII. In spite of his standing as a totalitarian dictator, Stalin is regarded by some people as having achieved a cult of personality.

Donald Trump was 45th US President. He was the third president to be impeached. Trump presided over the country during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donald Trump was 45th US President. He was the third president to be impeached. Trump presided over the country during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donald Trump

  • "When somebody challenges you, fight back. Be brutal, be tough."

  • "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters."

  • "What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate."

  • "If you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you."

  • "I love the poorly educated."

  • "Leaders, true leaders, take responsibility for the success of the team, and understand that they must also take responsibility for the failure."

Prior to becoming the 45th US President, Donald Trump (1946- ) was a reality tv personality and businessman who initially got his start in real estate with a loan of $1 million from his tycoon father. He declared bankruptcy six times and according to The New York Times "lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer"6. Trump ran as a Republican and espoused nationalist, xenophobic, and authoritarian views which made him deeply divisive.

He was one of only five presidents to be elected by losing the popular vote; Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, earned 7 million more votes but lost the electoral vote. Additionally, Trump was the third president to be impeached and the only president in history to be impeached twice.

Trump presided over the COVID-19 pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands in the United States and left millions of other Americans unemployed. The one-term president established a sixth branch of the military (the Space Force) and reformed the criminal justice system but had such a difficult time accepting defeat in the 2020 election that he nearly killed American democracy on his way out of the door.

Sources

1 Thomas Jefferson Foundation. (n.d.). Slavery. Monticello. https://www.monticello.org/slavery/.

2 History.com Editors. (2009, November 9). Genghis Khan. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/china/genghis-khan.

3 Khan, R. (2010, August 5). 1 in 200 men are direct descendants of Genghis Khan. Discover Magazine. https://www.discovermagazine.com/the-sciences/1-in-200-men-direct-descendants-of-genghis-khan.

4 11 cultural breakthroughs Genghis Khan achieved during his reign. (2015, October 14). Mental Floss. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/68894/11-cultural-breakthroughs-genghis-khan-achieved-during-his-reign.

5 The 5 million non-Jewish people killed by the Nazis. (2017, December 6). Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/holocaust-non-jewish-victims_n_6555604.

6Craig, S. (2019, May 7). Decade in the red: Trump tax figures show over $1 billion in business losses (Published 2019). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/05/07/us/politics/donald-trump-taxes.html

© 2021 FlourishAnyway

Comments

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 08, 2021:

Bill - Thanks. You can really trace the thread of thinking, He may not be a student of history but he's listening to somebody. He has actually quoted some of them.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on January 08, 2021:

What an interesting collection of quotes, Flourish. Some of them are very surprising. Looks like our current President has followed in the footsteps of some of histories most notorious leaders. Great job, very interesting reading.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 08, 2021:

Brenda - I'm glad you liked these! I was fascinated by them too!

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 07, 2021:

A great article. Hard to believe the Donald...but you have the quotes.

I seem to like Thomas Jefferson & John Kennedy.

Perfect timing to open our eyes to these quotes.

Wonderful & informative.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

James - Sometimes the toughest advice to take is one's own! The current president may need to think about that.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

Linda - Thank you for that! Some of the names I looked up didn't have good corresponding quotes but I'm sure I'll get lucky there. Any other suggestions are welcome as well.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

Peggy - I was fascinated to see the thread of reason repeat itself among certain leaders right up through today. Thanks for reading.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

Denise - That's very sweet of you. Thank you.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

Louise - Oh my goodness, you and me both! I'm so tired of the MAGA madness. I just want to say, "Get your stuff and go. Now." Let civility, rationality, and democracy return.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

Nell - Thanks for reading. I clarified that passage. Many of the quotes were a mix of positive, middle of the road and evil. There were a very few that were just pure evil, no good quotes. Very telling. You really wonder about what makes a human being that way.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

Chitrangada - Thanks for reading! Glad you got something out of this.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

Bill - Thank you for the compliment. Glad you enjoyed it!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

Pamela - Thanks for reading. I enjoyed putting this together. It was surprising how some of the dictators could be ahem inspirational in their words and the presidents we admire so much could be acidic. Words have lots of power though.

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on January 07, 2021:

You were right about being surprised about who said what. Presidents Donald Trump talking about personal accountability and Bill Clinton espousing telling the truth stunned me. Interesting hub.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on January 07, 2021:

Wow! This was an eye-opening compilation. I hope you find the time to do another one of these (or more). If you write one on female leaders don't forget Imelda Marcos and Angela Merkel.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 07, 2021:

It appears that lies that are spoken often and repeated often suddenly become believable by many. Sad, but true! Lenin and Hitler used it well. I can think of others much more recent. I am sure you can also.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 07, 2021:

Very good compilation of the quotes that people have lived by. I enjoyed reading all of these. Thanks for all the research this took.

Blessings,

Denise

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on January 07, 2021:

That was very interesting to read. I liked Nelson Mandela. I'll be glad when Bidon takes over in a couple of weeks though lol.

Nell Rose from England on January 07, 2021:

That was totally fascinating! I didn't who the quotes belonged to before, but I had heard of them. I wasn't so sure about Genkis Khan and the silk road though, I thought it started before that? But great quotes, and yes most of them were a mix of good, evil, and middle.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 07, 2021:

Great collection of powerful quotes. I enjoyed reading your article with some brief history as well, about these great World leaders.

Thank you for sharing.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 07, 2021:

Definitely food for thought, and so very timely. Very enjoyable read, my friend.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 07, 2021:

Flourish, some of the quotes were surprising. This is a very interesting article since it has such a variety of leaders over centuries. The dictators were somewhat surprising, but maybe their words gave them power.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

Dora - I'm glad these spoke to you! Have a wonderful day!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

Nithya - I'm glad you enjoyed the quotes.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

John - I appreciate your reading. I was intrigued that some of the dictators' quotes were surprisingly inspiring and some of the Presidents' quotes salty or downright scary.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

Cynthia - I did have some Margaret Thatcher quotes and Indira Ghandi quotes but it was a matter of space. If it's a popular article I have enough for a second article. There aren't many women Presidents or dictators to choose from. I was conscious of it. Good of you to notice though.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2021:

emge - Thanks for stopping by.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 07, 2021:

"If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done" by Jefferson and "I never lose. I either win or learn" by Mandella are my favorites. So simple but they speak directly to me today. Thanks for sharing these interesting (some very powerful) quotes. Happy New Year.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on January 07, 2021:

An interesting collection of quotes, each quote is a reflection of the individual person.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on January 07, 2021:

What an informative and interesting article, Flourish. I loved reading the quotes by these leaders and their brief histories. Well done. Thanks for sharing.

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on January 06, 2021:

What an interesting and well-written article. I liked the contrasting of what many said and actually did. But no women? Your next article?

As always, creative and educational. Good work!

MG Singh emge from Singapore on January 06, 2021:

Great collection of quotes. Quite a selection.

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