Great Words From Presidents Of The 20th Century

Our nation has been led by many great men for more than two centuries. During that time, a lot of momentous events have occurred — some good, and some tragic — and our Presidents have always been there to speak to the nation. From inspiring change and motivating troops during wartime to helping the nation heal after a tragedy, some great speeches have come from the men leading the country.

Looking back on those events, one must also remember what was said at the time — for history’s sake, for remembrance, for context, and for inspiration that lives on in so many immortal words to this day. So many of the great speeches that impacted the nation and the world at the time are just as stirring and powerful today as they were when they were first spoken.

Collected below are 10 great quotes by great men who were at one time the President of the United States of America.

1. Woodrow Wilson

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.” speaking to Congress in 1917 on going to war.

2. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.” — from his first Inaugural Address to the nation.

3. Harry Truman

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“Events have brought our American democracy to new influence and new responsibilities. They will test our courage, our devotion to duty, and our concept of liberty. But I say to all men, what we have achieved in liberty, we will surpass in greater liberty. Steadfast in our faith in the Almighty, we will advance toward a world where man’s freedom is secure. To that end we will devote our strength, our resources, and our firmness of resolve. With God’s help, the future of mankind will be assured in a world of justice, harmony, and peace.” — from his 1949 Inaugural Address.

4. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“We never have, we never will, propose or suggest that the Soviet Union surrender what is rightfully theirs. We will never say that the peoples of Russia are an enemy with whom we have no desire ever to deal or mingle in friendly and fruitful relationship. On the contrary, we hope that this coming Conference may initiate a relationship with the Soviet Union which will eventually bring about a free intermingling of the peoples of the East and of the West–the one sure, human way of developing the understanding required for confident and peaceful relations. Instead of the discontent which is now settling upon Eastern Germany, occupied Austria, and the countries of Eastern Europe, we seek a harmonious family of free European nations, with none a threat to the other, and least of all a threat to the peoples of Russia. Beyond the turmoil and strife and misery of Asia, we seek peaceful opportunity for these peoples to develop their natural resources and to elevate their lives. These are not idle words or shallow visions. Behind them lies a story of nations lately come to independence, not as a result of war, but through free grant or peaceful negotiation. There is a record, already written, of assistance gladly given by nations of the West to needy peoples, and to those suffering the temporary effects of famine, drought, and natural disaster. These are deeds of peace. They speak more loudly than promises or protestations of peaceful intent.” — from his “Atoms for Peace” Speech at the United Nations.

5. John F. Kennedy

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” — from his 1961 Inauguration speech.

Continue to the next page for more great quotes from Presidents!

6. Lyndon B. Johnson

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“This is the richest and most powerful country which ever occupied the globe. The might of past empires is little compared to ours. But I do not want to be the President who built empires, or sought grandeur, or extended dominion. I want to be the President who educated young children to the wonders of their world. I want to be the President who helped to feed the hungry and to prepare them to be taxpayers instead of taxeaters. I want to be the President who helped the poor to find their own way and who protected the right of every citizen to vote in every election. I want to be the President who helped to end hatred among his fellow men and who promoted love among the people of all races and all regions and all parties. I want to be the President who helped to end war among the brothers of this earth.” — speaking about the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

7. Gerald R. Ford

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“The world knows where we stand. The world is ever conscious of what Americans are doing for better or for worse, because the United States today remains the most successful realization of humanity’s universal hope. The world may or may not follow, but we lead because our whole history says we must. Liberty is for all men and women as a matter of equal and unalienable right. The establishment of justice and peace abroad will in large measure depend upon the peace and justice we create here in our own country, where we still show the way. The American adventure began here with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence. It continues in a common conviction that the source of our blessings is a loving God, in whom we trust. Therefore, I ask all the members of the American family, our guests and friends, to join me now in a moment of silent prayer and meditation in gratitude for all that we have received and to ask continued safety and happiness for each of us and for the United States of America.” — speaking during the Bicentennial Celebration on July 4th, 1976.

8. Ronald Reagan

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control. Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” — speaking at the Berlin Wall in 1987.

9. George H. W. Bush

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“This is an historic moment. We have in this past year made great progress in ending the long era of conflict and cold war. We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order — a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations. When we are successful — and we will be — we have a real chance at this new world order, an order in which a credible United Nations can use its peacekeeping role to fulfill the promise and vision of the U.N.’s founders. We have no argument with the people of Iraq. Indeed, for the innocents caught in this conflict, I pray for their safety. Our goal is not the conquest of Iraq. It is the liberation of Kuwait. It is my hope that somehow the Iraqi people can, even now, convince their dictator that he must lay down his arms, leave Kuwait, and let Iraq itself rejoin the family of peace-loving nations. Thomas Paine wrote many years ago: ‘These are the times that try men’s souls.’ Those well-known words are so very true today. But even as planes of the multinational forces attack Iraq, I prefer to think of peace, not war. I am convinced not only that we will prevail but that out of the horror of combat will come the recognition that no nation can stand against a world united, no nation will be permitted to brutally assault its neighbor.” — addressing the nation at the start of the Gulf War.

10. Bill Clinton

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything. And you have certainly not lost America, for we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes. If ever we needed evidence of that, I could only recall the words of Governor and Mrs. Keating. If anybody thinks that Americans are mostly mean and selfish, they ought to come to Oklahoma. If anybody thinks Americans have lost the capacity for love and caring and courage, they ought to come to Oklahoma. To all my fellow Americans beyond this hall, I say, one thing we owe those who have sacrificed is the duty to purge ourselves of the dark forces which gave rise to this evil. They are forces that threaten our common peace, our freedom, our way of life. Let us teach our children that the God of comfort is also the God of righteousness. Those who trouble their own house will inherit the wind. Justice will prevail. Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life. As St. Paul admonished us, let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” — from the “Time for Healing” prayer service in Oklahoma City.

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Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.