Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865)
Quotations


If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must cease. There is no other alternative, for continuing the Government is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority in such a case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such a minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it? Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy.

If there is anything that a man can do well, I say let him do it. Give him a chance.

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it.

If we have no friends, we have no pleasure; and if we have them, we are sure to lose them, and be doubly pained by the loss.

If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can't fool all of the people all the time.

If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high-road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause.

I'm a slow walker, but I never walk back.

In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.

In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.

No matter how much cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens.

No organic law can ever be framed with a provision specifically applicable to every question which may occur in practical administration. No foresight can anticipate nor any document of reasonable length contain express provisions for all possible questions.

Nobody has ever expected me to be President. In my poor, lean, lank face, nobody has ever seen that any cabbages were sprouting out.

On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been. When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that "all men are created equal" a self-evident truth, but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim "a self-evident lie." The Fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day -- for burning fire-crackers!

On this subject of treating [slavery] as a wrong and limiting its spread, let me say a word. Has anything ever threatened the existence of this Union save and except this very institution of slavery? What is it that we hold most dear amongst us? Our own liberty and prosperity. What has ever threatened our liberty and prosperity save and except this institution of slavery? If this is true, how do you propose to improve the condition of things by enlarging slavery, -- by spreading it out and making it bigger? You may have a wen or a cancer upon your person, and not be able to cut it out lest you bleed to death; but surely it is no way to cure it, to engraft it and spread it over your whole body.

Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as a heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.

Our national strife springs not from our permanent part, not from the land we inhabit, not from our national homestead. There is no possible severing of this but would multiply and not mitigate evils among us. In all its adaptations and aptitudes it demands union and abhors separation. In fact it would ere long force reunion, however much of blood and treasure the separation might have cost.

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it, "all men are created equal except negroes." When the Know-nothings get control, it will read, "all men are created equal except negroes and foreigners and Catholics." When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.

Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.

Quarrel not at all. No man resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take all the consequences, including the vitiating of his temper and loss of self-control. Yield larger things to which you can show no more than equal right; and yield lesser ones, though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite.

Received as I am by the members of a legislature the majority of whom do not agree with me in political sentiments, I trust that I may have their assistance in piloting the ship of state through this voyage, surrounded by perils as it is; for if it should suffer wreck now, there will be no pilot ever needed for another voyage.

Republicans are for both the man and the dollar, but in case of conflict the man before the dollar.

Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.

Slavery is founded on the selfishness of man's nature -- opposition to it on his love of justice. These principles are in eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision so fiercely as slavery extension brings them, shocks and throes and convulsions must ceaselessly follow.

[on meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe] So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!

Stand with anybody that stands right, stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.

Such will be a great lesson of peace: teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by war.

Surely God would not have created such a being as man, with an ability to grasp the infinite, to exist only for a day! No, no, man was made for immortality.

Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.

Tell me what brand of whiskey that [General] Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.

That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles -- right and wrong -- throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the "divine right of kings." It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, "You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it." No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king, who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle. Whenever the issue can be distinctly made, and all extraneous matter thrown out, so that men can fairly see the real difference between the parties, this controversy will soon be settled.

That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.

The assertion that "all men are created equal" was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain and it was placed in the Declaration not for that, but for future use.

The ballot is stronger than the bullet.

The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.

The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.

The central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy.

The demon of intemperance ever seems to have delighted in sucking the blood of genius and of generosity. What one of us but can call to mind some relative more promising in youth than all his fellows, who has fallen a sacrifice to his rapacity?

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves.

The highest art is always the most religious, and the greatest artist is always a devout person.

The Lord prefers common-looking people. That is the reason He makes so many of them.

The man does not live who is more devoted to peace than I am, none who would do more to preserve it, but it may be necessary to put the foot down firmly.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

Avoid popularity if you would have peace.

Ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors to bullets.

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren't very new at all.

By the fruit the tree is to be known. An evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit.

Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other right.

Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

Common looking people are the best in the world: that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them.

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.

Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.

Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.

Every one desires to live long, but no one would be old.

Everybody likes a compliment.

Few can be induced to labor exclusively for posterity; and none will do it enthusiastically. Posterity has done nothing for us; and theorize on it as we may, practically we shall do very little for it, unless we are made to think we are at the same time doing something for ourselves.

Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Great distance in either time or space has wonderful power to lull and render quiescent the human mind.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.

Having thus chosen our course, without guile and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear and with manly hearts.

[on a fellow lawyer] He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.

How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.

Human action can be modified to some extent, but human nature cannot be changed.

I am not accustomed to the language of eulogy. I have never studied the art of paying compliments to women. But I must say, that if all that has been said by orators and poets since the creation of the world in praise of women were applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice.

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.

I believe, if we take habitual drunkards as a class, their heads and their hearts will bear an advantageous comparison with those of any other class. There seems ever to have been a proneness in the brilliant and warm-blooded to fall into this vice.

I believe I shall never be old enough to speak without embarrassment when I have nothing to talk about.

I can make more generals, but horses cost money.

I care not much for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.

I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.

I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me.

I desire to see the time when education, and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise and industry shall become much more general than at present.

I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.

I distrust the wisdom if not the sincerity of friends who would hold my hands while my enemies stab me.

I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.

I do the very best I know how -- the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.

I don't know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.

I don't like that man. I must get to know him better.

I hate [slavery] because it deprives the republican example of its just influence in the world -- enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites -- causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity.

I have a congenital aversion to failure.

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.

I have been told I was on the road to hell, but I had no idea it was just a mile down the road with a dome on it.

I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgement, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality; and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I . . . am in favour of the race to which I belong having the superior position.

I hold that if the Almighty had ever made a set of men that should do all the eating and none of the work, He would have made them with mouths only and no hands; and if He had ever made another class that He intended should do all the work and no eating, He would have made them with hands only and no mouths.

I hope to stand firm enough to not go backward, and yet not go forward fast enough to wreck the country's cause.

I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.

I never encourage deceit, and falsehood, especially if you have got a bad memory, is the worst enemy a fellow can have. The fact is truth is your truest friend, no matter what the circumstances are.

I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.

I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for safety of my country; corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in High Places will follow, and the Money Power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the People, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic destroyed.

I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.

I was losing interest in politics, when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused me again. What I have done since then is pretty well known.

I will prepare and someday my chance will come.

I wish you to remember, now and forever, that it is your business, and not mine; that if the union of these states and the liberties of this people shall be lost, it is but little to any one man of fifty-two years of age, but a great deal to the thirty millions of people who inhabit these United States and to their posterity in all coming time. It is your business to rise up and preserve the Union and liberty for yourselves and not for me. I appeal to you again to constantly bear in mind that not with politicians, not with Presidents, not with office seekers, but with you, is the question: Shall the Union and shall the liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generations?

If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow-citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.

In my judgment, such of us as have never fallen victims have been spared more by the absence of appetite, than from any mental or moral superiority over those who have.

In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.

It is best not to swap horses while crossing the river.

It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.

Knavery and flattery are blood relations.

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.

Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.

Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap. Let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges. Let it be written in primers, spelling books, and in almanacs. Let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in the courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation.

Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.

Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.

Military glory: the attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood, that serpent’s eye that charms to destroy.

Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.

My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

Negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do anything for us, if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive, even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.

The one victory we can ever call complete will be that one which proclaims that there is not one slave or one drunkard on the face of God's green earth.

The people themselves, and not their servants, can safely reverse their own deliberate decisions.

The people will save their government, if the government itself will allow them.

The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.

The power confided in me will be used to hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts.

The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.

The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read.

The time comes upon every public man when it is best for him to keep his lips closed.

The way for a young man to rise is to improve himself in every way he can, never suspecting that anybody wishes to hinder him.

There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. I say vague, because when we consider to what extent confidence and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbable that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common, almost universal. Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief. Resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.

There is another old poet whose name I do not now remember who said, "Truth is the daughter of Time."

There is not a more fatal error to young lawyers than relying too much on speechmaking. If anyone, upon his rare powers of speaking, shall claim an exemption from the drudgery of the law, his case is a failure in advance.

There is something so ludicrous in promises of good or threats of evil a great way off as to render the whole subject with which they are connected easily turned into ridicule.

These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.

Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.

Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.

We are not enemies, but friends. . . . Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.

We better know there is a fire whence we see much smoke rising than we could know it by one or two witnesses swearing to it. The witnesses may commit perjury, but the smoke cannot.

We cannot escape history.

We must settle this question now -- whether in a free government the minority have the right to break it up whenever they choose. If we fail, it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.

We shall sooner have the bird by hatching the egg than by smashing it.

We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.

What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?

What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.

Whatever you are, be a good one.

When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.

When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.

When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.

When the hour comes for dealing with slavery, I trust I will be willing to do my duty though it cost my life.

When you have got an elephant by the hind legs and he is trying to run away, it's best to let him run.

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

Whether or not the world would be vastly benefited by a total banishment from it of all intoxicating drinks seems not now an open question. Three-fourths of mankind confess the affirmative with their tongues, and I believe all the rest acknowledge it in their hearts.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.

Without the assistance of that Divine Being I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail.

Yield larger things to which you can show no more than equal right; and yield lesser ones, though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite.

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.

[on the presidency] You have heard the story . . . about the man who was tarred and feathered and carried out of town on a rail? A man in the crowd asked him how he liked it. His reply was that if it was not for the honor of the thing, he would much rather walk.

You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.

A fellow once came to me to ask for an appointment as a minister abroad. Finding he could not get that, he came down to some more modest position. Finally, he asked to be made a tide-waiter [a customs inspector]. When he saw he could not get that, he asked me for an old pair of trousers. It is sometimes well to be humble.

A friend is one who has the same enemies as you have.

A gentleman had purchased twelve negroes in different parts of Kentucky, and was taking them to a farm in the South. They were chained six and six together. A small iron clevis was around the left wrist of each, and this was fastened to the main chain by a shorter one, at a convenient distance from the others, so that the negroes were strung together precisely like so many fish upon a trotline. In this condition they were being separated forever from the scenes of their childhood, their friends, their fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, and many of them from their wives and children, and going into perpetual slavery, where the lash of the master is proverbially more ruthless and unrelenting than any other where; and yet amid all these distressing circumstances, as we would think them, they were the most cheerful and apparently happy creatures on board. One whose offense for which he had been sold was an over-fondness for his wife, played the fiddle almost continually, and the others danced, sang, cracked jokes, and played various games with cards from day to day. How true it is that "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb," or in other words, that he renders the worst human conditions tolerable, while he permits the best to be nothing better than tolerable.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.

All I ask for the negro is that if you do not like him, let him alone. If God gave him but little, that little let him enjoy.

All my life I have tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower wherever the flower would grow in thought and mind.

All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

All the strange, checkered past seems to crowd upon my mind.

All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.

Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose -- and you allow him to make war at pleasure.

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable -- a most sacred right -- a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.

As a general rule, I abstain from reading the reports of attacks upon myself, wishing not to be provoked by that to which I cannot properly offer an answer.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.



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