Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Character Quotes

From Former Presidents

From Character Above All Authors

From Various Sources


Quotes on Character from former Presidents of the United States


george washington

GEORGE WASHINGTON (1732-1799)
"Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder."


JOHN ADAMS (1735-1826)
The people "have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge-- I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers."


DWIGHT EISENHOWER (1890-1969)
The qualities of a great man are "vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the power of articulation, and profundity of character."


CALVIN COOLIDGE (1872-1933)
"Character is the only secure foundation of the state."


LYNDON JOHNSON (1908-1973)
"The fact that a man is a newspaper reporter is evidence of some flaw of character."


wilsonWOODROW WILSON (1856-1924)
"If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself. Character is a by-product, and any man who devotes himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig."

THEODORE ROOSEVELT (1858-1919)
"Americanism is a question of principle, of purpose, of idealism, of character. It is not a matter of birthplace or creed or line of descent."


JAMES MADISON (1751-1836)
"Respect for character is always diminished in proportion to the number among whom the blame or praise is to be divided."
Arguing against a large lower house in a debate at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, PA, 1787.

Lincoln


ABRAHAM LINCOLN
"Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.:
"I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me."



RONALD REAGAN (b.1911)
"You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jelly beans."


JOHN QUINCY ADAMS (1767-1848)
"This mode of electioneering suited neither my taste nor my principles. I thought it equally unsuitable to my personal character and to the station in which I am placed."
(This was said by Adams when he was asked to open the Pennsylvania canal and speak to a group of farmers as President of the United States.)


RICHARD NIXON (1913-1994)
"With all the power that a President has, the most important thing to bear in mind is this: You must not give power to a man unless, above everything else, he has character. Character is the most important qualification the President of the United States can have."
(From TV ad for Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964.)


Quotes on Character by the authors of Character Above All


RICHARD REEVES:
"Character is a word that seems to define almost all human activity and then some..."
"Power is what you do and character is what you are..."
" All leaders must face some crisis where their own strength of character is the enemy."

Robert Dallek ROBERT DALLAK:
" ... what's in a person's heart and soul will not likely be changed by the ability to command a helicopter to land on the South Lawn."

JAMES CANNON:
"The (ancient) Greeks believed that character was formed in part by fate and in part by parental training, and that character was exemplified not only by acts of bravery in battle but in the habits of daily conduct."
" From the beginning we in this nation have had the good fortune to find the right leader, often from an unexpected quarter, whose character, ability, and experience fit the tide of history."

HENDRICK HERTZBERG:
"A person's character is what it is. It's a little like a marriage-- only without the option of divorce. You can work on it and try to make it better, but basically you have to take the bitter with the sweet."

Peggy Noonan PEGGY NOONAN:
"In a president, character is everything. A president doesn't have to be brilliant... He doesn't have to be clever; you can hire clever... You can hire pragmatic, and you can buy and bring in policy wonks. But you can't buy courage and decency, you can't rent a strong moral sense. A president must bring those things with him... He needs to have, in that much maligned word, but a good one nonetheless, a "vision" of the future he wishes to create.. But a vision is worth little if a president doesn't have the character-- the courage and heart-- to see it through."


Quotes on Character from Various Sources


Thomas Edison Attributed to THOMAS EDISON -- inventor
"What a man's mind can create, man's character can control."


"PRESIDENT ANDREW SHEPHERD" (portrayed by Michael Douglas) in the film "The American President"
"I can tell you without hesitation being president of this country is entirely about character."


AMBROSE BIERCE (1842-1914) -- American short story writer
"The partisan strife in which the people of the country are permitted to periodically engage does not tend to the development of ugly traits of character, but merely discloses those that preexist."
Referring to election campaigns, November 8, 1884.Mark Twain


MARK TWAIN (1835 - 1910) -- American writer

"To arrive at a just estimate of a renowned man's character one must judge it by the standards of his time, not ours."


SUSAN ESTRICH -- lawyer, Democratic strategist
"The politics of crime is not about a party's record or a candidates proposals, but about perceived character and values."


JUDITH LICHTENBERG -- American political scientist
"The politics of character tend to drive out the politics of substance."


EmersonRALPH WALDO EMERSON (1803-1882) -- American writer and philosopher
"The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops - no, but the kind of man the country turns out."
"Our people are slow to learn the wisdom of sending character instead of talent to Congress. Again and again they have sent a man of great acuteness, a fine scholar, a fine forensic orator, and some master of the brawls has crunched him up in his hands like a bit of paper."


WILLIAM J. BENNETT-- writer and former Secretary of Education
"It is our character that supports the promise of our future - far more than particular government programs or policies."


CHARLES DE GAULLE (1890-1970) -- French military leader and statesman
"Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back upon himself."


OTTO VON BISMARCK (1815-1898) -- Chancellor of Germany in the late 19th century
"Politics ruins the character."


BOOKER T. WASHINGTON (1856-1915) -- African-American educator
"Character is power."

Keller


HELEN KELLER (1880-1968) American blind and deaf writer/lecturer
"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved."



MARGARET CHASE SMITH (1897-1995) -- US Senator (R-Maine) from 1949-1973
"The Senate has been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity."
Quoted in reference to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the New York Times June 2, 1950.


EURIPIDES (484?-406 BC) Ancient Greek dramatist
Character is "a stamp of good repute on a person."


WALTER LIPPMANN (1889-1974) American writer
"Between ourselves and our real natures we interpose that wax figure of idealizations and selections which we call our character."

martin luther king


MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (1929-1968) Civil Rights leader
"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically... Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education."


ABIGAIL VAN BUREN ("Dear Abby") advice columnist
"The best index to a person's character is (a) how he treats people who can't do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can't fight back."


HERACLITUS (c. 540 - c. 480 BC) -- Greek philosopher
"A man's character is his fate."


ARISTOTLE (c. 384 - c. 322 BC) Greek philosopher
"Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses and avoids."
"A good character carries with it the highest power of causing a thing to be believed."


LORD CHESTERFIELD (1694-1773) -- English statesman
"Mankind is made up of inconsistencies, and no man acts invariably up to his predominant character. The wisest man sometimes acts weakly, and the weakest sometimes wisely."


Shepard SAM SHEPARD -- American actor/playwright
"Character is an essential tendency. It can be covered up, it can be messed with, it can be screwed around with, but it can't be ultimately changed. It's the structure of our bones, the blood that runs through our veins."


THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY (1800-1859) -- British writer and politician
"The measure of a man's character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out."


P.J. O'ROURKE -- American political commentator/novelist

"Every person in America has done or said something that would keep him or her from being president. Maybe a nation that consumes as much booze and dope as we do and has our kind of divorce statistics should pipe down about 'character issues.'"

"... in our brief national history we have shot four of our presidents, worried five of them to death, impeached one and hounded another out of office. And when all else fails, we hold an election and assassinate their character."


george washingtonHORACE GREELEY (1811-1872) -- New York newspaper editor
"Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wing, and only character endures."

| Broadcast | Essays | Forum | Overview | Quotes | Links | Home |