I declare to you…that for personal considerations I would rather have a full term in the Senate — a place in which I would feel more consciously able to discharge the duties required, and where there is more chance to make a reputation, and less danger of losing it — than four years of the Presidency.
Abraham Lincoln, October 25, 1860, to a visitor shortly before his election, according to John G. Nicolay
Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be President, but they don’t want them to become politicians in the process.
John F. Kennedy
I had been so near the office (the Presidency) for four years, while in the Cabinet of (Franklin) Pierce, that I saw it from behind the scenes, and it was to me an office in no way desirable. The responsibilities were great; the labor, the vexations, the disappointments, were greater. Those who have intimately known the official and personal life of our Presidents cannot fail to remember how few have left the office as happy men as when they entered it, how darkly the shadows gathered around the setting sun, and how eagerly the multitude would turn to gaze upon another orb just rising to take its place in the political firmament.
Worn by incessant fatigue, broken in fortune, debarred by public opinion, prejudice, or tradition, from future employment, the wisest and best who have filled that office have retired to private life, to remember rather the failure of their hopes than the success of their efforts. He must, indeed, be a self-confident man who could hope to fill the chair of Washington with satisfaction to himself, with the assurance of receiving on his retirement the meed awarded by the people to that great man, that he had ‘lived enough for life and for glory,’ or even of feeling that the sacrifice of self has been compensated by the service rendered to his country.
Many men are great, but few capture the imagination and the spirit of the times. The ones who do are unforgettable. Four administrations have passed since John Kennedy’s death; five Presidents have occupied the Oval Office, and I feel sure that each of them thought of John Kennedy now and then and his thousand days in the White House.
And sometimes I want to say to those who are still in school and who sometimes think that history is a dry thing that lives in a book: Nothing is ever lost in that great house; some music plays on.
I’ve even been told that late at night when the clouds are still and the moon is high, you can just about hear the sound of certain memories brushing by. You can almost hear, if you listen close, the whir of a wheelchair rolling by and the sound of a voice calling out, ‘And another thing, Eleanor!’ Turn down a hall and you hear the brisk strut of a fellow saying, ‘Bully! Absolutely ripping!’ Walk softly, now, and you’re drawn to the soft notes of a piano and a brilliant gathering in the East Room where a crowd surrounds a bright young President who is full of hope and laughter.
I don’t know if this is true, but it’s a story I’ve been told. And it’s not a bad one because it reminds us that history is a living thing that never dies. A life given in service to one’s country is a living thing that never dies — a life given in service, yes.
History is not only made by people; it is people. And so, history is, as young John Kennedy demonstrated, as heroic as you want it to be, as heroic as you are.
Ronald Reagan, speech given at a fundraiser for the JFK Library at the home of Senator Ted Kennedy, McLean, Virginia, June 24, 1985
When we got into office, the first thing that surprised me most was to find that things were just as bad as we’d been saying they were.
John F. Kennedy, 1961
The people can never understand why the President does not use his supposedly great power to make ‘em behave. Well, all the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.
If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.
Bullets are not worth considering. Besides I am so conceited that I do not think the Gods would create so potent a being for so prosaic an ending.
Winston Churchill, 21 years old, in a letter to his mother after his first experience of being shot at in combat, 1895
I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.
President Warren G. Harding, to Columbia University president Nicholas Murray Butler, 1922
It doesn’t really matter whether he slept with her or not. He could have. After all, he owned her. She was subject to his exploitations in every conceivable way. It was he who brought her to Paris. It was he who sent her home from Paris. He had complete control of her destiny and he might have fathered the several children…Many people who deny that Jefferson fathered any mulatto children say that it was done by his nephews or by some other relatives. They seem to have scientific proof for that, without having any scientific proof for his not having slept with Sally Hemings or some other slaves. The important point to make is that throughout the land in the 18th and 19th centuries, blacks were the victims, the subjects, the exploited people of their owners and of those whites who didn’t own them. And that we lived in such immorality, such irregularity…that these things were part of the natural landscape in Virginia, and Mr. Jefferson was as likely as any others to have done this because it’s in character with the times — and, indeed, with him, who believed in exploiting these people that he controlled completely.
John Hope Franklin, on whether Thomas Jefferson fathered children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings
[Monroe] is one of the Most improper & incompetent that could have been selected — Naturally dull & stupid — extremely illiterate — indecisive to a degree that would be incredible to one who did not know him — pusillanimous & of course hypocritical — has no opinion on any subject (and) will be always under the Govt. of the worst Men — pretends as I am told, to some Knowledge of Military Matters, but never commanded a platoon nor was ever fit to command one.
Aaron Burr, on James Monroe, in a letter to Joseph Alston, November 15, 1815