Good Presidential Quotes to Celebrate President's Day 2024
I've decided to celebrate President's Day February 19th by listening to (and contemplating) a few words written by a few U.S. Presidents.
In 1864, President Lincoln said: It is not merely for to-day, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children's children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives.
What a quintessential view of the honor we have to be living in this country. And appropriate from a president whose tenure in office is remembered heavily for his leadership during the Civil War.
I found this quote on the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum website. I freakin' love quotes. I get to hear the literal words of Washington, Jefferson, and others re-enacted here in Colonial Williamsburg (CW) almost daily.
There are other places I find fantastic quotes:
- Reading letters (the ultimate primary source in my opinion!) on the founders archives.
- Books and other documents in person at the Rockefeller Library.
- Jumping online and reading newspapers like the Virginia Gazette (visible through the Rockefeller Library's digital archive).
My love for quotes has been my inspiration in the Free At 50 blog several times. Thus, the idea of celebrating President's Day this year with quotes from some our of U.S. Presidents.
There is so much out there; I'm sharing some good ones that caught my attention.
Disclaimer: As a blogger, I use affiliate links sometimes! I may receive commission from purchases I share; it does not change your price but sometimes you might get a discount.
Starting with our 1st U.S. President: General Washington.
As mentioned above, the Rockefeller Library houses books that hold pure gold in my history-nerd heart. I found one such book a few weeks back: The Quotable George Washington: The Wisdom of an American Patriot by Stephen E. Lucas. (Buy the book by clicking here!)
Not lying: I lost track of time with this one, jotting down all kinds of quotes. One of my favorites is pulled from a 1777 letter to Washington's close friend, who happened to be a Loyalist: Bryan Fairfax.
"The difference in our political sentiments never made any change in my friendship for you."
What an intense statement on the value of friendship over politics. These words were written in 1777. After the war began. After Washington took position commanding troops AGAINST Loyalists.
And with the opportunity to interact with CW actor/historians Daniel Cross and Ron Carnegie, I've learned that the Washington/Fairfax relationship is one worth diving deeper into as part of learning what American history is about.
Ron Carnegie portraying George Washington in CW.
I can't get enough of Thomas Jefferson.
Eccentric, introverted, passionate, conflicted, emotional... words that immediately come to mind when I think of our 3rd U.S. President. Mr. Jefferson was as complex as humans can possibly be.
Limiting myself to one quote for this post seems an impossible task so I'm not overthinking it. I'm just dropping one I love-- and I love a lot- even the ones that might be difficult to swallow in the 21st century. But I bet he'd be excited to know how far we've come!
CW's Jefferson, Kurt Smith, is to be blamed for my addiction to the Founders Archives. So that's where I've pulled this quote from.
"A little attention however to the nature of the human mind evinces that the entertainments of fiction are useful as well as pleasant."
And what does it mean? Of course, context is important but sometimes, a simple quote is enough to have a little window into the soul, right? Maybe. You can read the 1771 letter in full by clicking here.
To me, as I learn more about Jefferson, I believe this captures the spirit of his serious soul- that we need a little lightness in our life.
RELATED: Read an incredibly insightful interview with Kurt Smith on CW's website by clicking here.
Kurt Smith portraying Thomas Jefferson in CW.
Madison was just like us, he sometimes needed a little financial support from his parents!
Before James Madison wrote our U.S. Constitution, married Dolly, and became our 4th U.S. President, he was a student at what now is known as Princeton in New Jersey.
In October of 1771, Madison wrote to his father, James Madison, Sr., letting him know he might not have the funds on hand to head back home to Virginia.
"If I come home in the Spring the purchase of a horse & travelling expences I am apprehensive will amount to more than I can reserve out of my present Stock for those purposes so that it would not be amiss perhaps if you were to send a few Half-Jos:"
Not all quotes from U.S. Presidents need to be about leadership, politics, war, and the economy... they were human after all!
Madison had some major accomplishments, but to me, this letter to his dad reminds us that we were all young once, and it truly humanizes him in my mind. As have all the performances I've seen here in CW.
Shoutout and thanks to actor and historian Bryan Austin, who brought Madison to life. His current project is the Let's Be Frank podcast- check it out here.
RELATED: Read the letter, with citations, in full by clicking here.
Bryan Austin portraying James Madison
William Henry Harrison
I visited Berkeley, home of the Harrisons, and had to dedicate a whole post to it. Read it here.
So why not find out more about a man I don't know too much about. In researching our 9th U.S. President, William Henry (WH) Harrison, I found a quote I truly wanted to add to this post.
One thing I learned on my visit to Berkeley that I find ironic and interesting today is that at age 67 he was the oldest person elected to the presidency up to his time. I'm not inviting politics and negativity into the comments, I'm just saying I find it interesting in 2024.
According to letters listed on Founders Archives, it seems that WH Harrison corresponded A LOT with Jefferson. Or at the least, those letters were preserved through time.
My chosen quote is from one of those letters. To me, it says a lot about WH Harrison, who precedes this request with quite an update on Indian Affairs and follows it with numbers to bolster his argument. Click here to read the letter in full.
"Relying upon your indulgence & forgivness (if there should be any thing improper in what I am about to say) I must beg you to take into consideration the propriety of making a small addition to my salary as Superintendant of Indian Affairs I receive for my services in that Department 800 Dolls. per Annum which is Considerably less than any of the Agents or Sub Agents are allowed—& my duties & expenses are more than double"
Site marker, Berkeley, Charles City Virginia
McKinley's First Inaugural Speech mentioned debt, currency and gold- a lot.
From Ohio, our 25th U.S. President served as the nation moved from the 19th century into the 20th. A truly pivotal time as the United States:
- continued to expand
- we formally entered the Spanish-American War
- the industrial revolution was upon us
- and communication was moving faster across states, and even continents
Keeping the United States solvent and improving it's economy wasn't just campaign rhetoric; it literally seems to have been McKinley's priority. It's clear he had strong views on limiting government debt and ensuring our currency had value. He dedicated a solid section of his first inaugural address to this. Quote:
"The best way for the Government to maintain its credit is to pay as it goes--not by resorting to loans, but by keeping out of debt--through an adequate income secured by a system of taxation, external or internal, or both."
Why did I pull this quote: because I love knowing what drives people, and this quote made me dig deeper and learn more about McKinley and his short time in office.
President McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo New York in 1901 after being elected to a second term; Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt succeeded him.
RELATED: Read the transcript of the full address here.
Read more, including his concern for the gold reserves here, in McKinley's First Annual Message.
McKinley statue, taken California, 2015
Closing it out with words from history.
This is an excerpt of a 1763 letter from Jefferson to John Page, one of his closest friends. I chose it because to me, it is Jefferson's personality in a small bite.
To read the letter in full, click here- I doubt you'll be disappointed! Oh and the postscript about smallpox in Williamsburg and his wishes to be married--pure gold! (R.B. is Rebecca Burwell, the object of Jefferson's affection at this time)
From Thomas Jefferson to John Page, 20 January 1763
To John Page
Shadwell Jan. 20th. 1763.
I have been thinking this half hour how to begin my letter and cannot for my soul make it out. I wish to the Lord one could write a letter without any beginning for I am sure it allways puzzles me more than all the rest of it. And to tell you the plain truth I have not a syllable to write to you about. For I do not conceive that any thing can happen in my world which you would give a curse to know, or I either. All things here appear to me to trudge on in one and the same round: we rise in the morning that we may eat breakfast, dinner and supper and go to bed again that we may get up the next morning and do the same: so that you never saw two peas more alike than our yesterday and to-day. Under these circumstances what would you have me say? Would you that I should write nothing but truth? I tell you I know nothing that is true. Or would you rather that I should write you a pack of lies? Why unless they were more ingenious than I am able to invent they would furnish you with little amusement. What can I do then? Nothing, but ask you the news in your world. How have you done since I saw you? How did Nancy look at you when you danced with her at Southal’s? Have you any glimmering of hope? How does R. B. do? What do you think of my affair, or what would you advise me to do? Had I better stay here and do nothing, or go down and do less? Or in other words had I better stay here while I am here, or go down that I may have the pleasure of sailing up the river again in a full-rigged flat?
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There is a huge practical disclaimer to the content on this blog, which is my way of sharing my excitement and basically journaling online.
1) I am not a historian nor an expert. I will let you know I’m relaying the information as I understand and interpret it. The employees of Colonial Williamsburg base their presentations, work, and responses on historical documents and mainly primary sources.
2) I will update for accuracy as history is constant learning. If you have a question about accuracy, please ask me! I will get the answer from the best source I can find.
3) Photo credit to me, Daphne Reznik, for all photos in this post, unless otherwise credited! All photos are personal photos taken in public access locations or with specific permission.