30 Quotes From U.S. Presidents About Leadership, Happiness and Persistence

Only about 39% of U.S. companies give their employees the day off on Presidents’ Day, according to a survey from Bloomberg BNA. So, if you’re reading this from a location other than your usual workplace, count yourself as one of the lucky ones.

But obviously, the holiday is about more than getting the day off from work or school (or even picking up a good deal on a mattress or some electronics). The third Monday in February has its roots in Washington’s Birthday, one of the oldest federal holidays in the United States. Per History.com:

…the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present.

And while past U.S. presidents had their differences obvious (achievements, policy positions) and subtle (weird hobbies, usual pre-presidential jobs), they also had a lot in common. (So far, all have been male, most have been white, and over half have been lawyers.)

Here’s something else many had in common: the ability to turn a phrase. If you’re looking for inspiration in your career, it’s worth reading these quotes from U.S. presidents on everything from self-doubt to success.

30 Quotes From U.S. Presidents

quotes from U.S. presidents

  1. “Happiness depends more upon the internal frame of a person’s own mind, than on the externals in the world.” – George Washington
  2. “The probability that we may fall in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just; it shall not deter me.” – Abraham Lincoln
  3. “Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.” – Thomas Jefferson
  4. “Be fit for more than the thing you are now doing. Let everyone know that you have a reserve in yourself; that you have more power than you are now using. If you are not too large for the place you occupy, you are too small for it.” – Chester A. Arthur
  5. “Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest plan you can think of and spend the rest of your life carrying it out.” – Harry S. Truman
  6. “The experience of democracy is like the experience of life itself — always changing, infinite in its variety, sometimes turbulent, and all the more valuable for having been tested by adversity.” – Jimmy Carter
  7. “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. In this life we get nothing save by effort.” – Theodore Roosevelt
  8. “Conformity is the jailer of freedom, and the enemy of growth.” – John F. Kennedy
  9. “Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.” – William Howard Taft
  10. “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” – John Adams
  11. “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.” – Barack Obama
  12. “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
  13. “There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
  14. “The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” – James Buchanan
  15. “Now I think, speaking roughly, by leadership we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it, not because your position of power can compel him to do it, or your position of authority. A commander of a regiment is not necessarily a leader. He has all of the appurtenances of power given by a set of Army regulations by which he can compel unified action. He can say to a body such as this, ‘Rise,’ and ‘Sit down.’ You do it exactly. But that is not leadership.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  16. “Leadership to me means duty, honor, country. It means character, and it means listening from time to time.” – George W. Bush
  17. “I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process.” – Benjamin Harrison
  18. “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
  19. “There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It really matters very little whether they are behind the wheel of a truck or running a business or bringing up a family. They teach the truth by living it.” ― James Garfield
  20. “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” – John Quincy Adams
  21. “You often hear people speaking as if life was like striving upward toward a mountain peak. That is not so. Life is as if you were traveling a ridge crest. You have the gulf of inefficiency on one side and the gulf of wickedness on the other, and it helps not to have avoided one gulf if you fall into the other.” – Theodore Roosevelt
  22. “One cool judgment is worth a thousand hasty counsels. The thing to be supplied is light, not heat.” – Woodrow Wilson
  23. “Never be satisfied with less than your very best effort. If you strive for the top and miss, you’ll still ‘beat the pack.’” – Gerald Ford
  24. “Any man worth his salt will stick up for what he believes right, but it takes a slightly better man to acknowledge instantly and without reservation that he is in error.” – Andrew Jackson
  25. “If you see 10 troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you and you have to battle with only one of them.” – Calvin Coolidge
  26. “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.” – Ronald Reagan
  27. “In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins.” — Ulysses S. Grant
  28. “When angry, count 10, before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.” – Thomas Jefferson
  29. “When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim, that a “drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’” – Abraham Lincoln
  30. “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to appellation. ” – George Washington

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