Today is President’s Day in the U.S. Originally established in 1885 as a recognition of George Washington’s birthday (February 22nd), it was later expanded to include Abraham Lincoln and all other U.S. presidents.
Some of the words of these leaders have stood the test of time. For example from Abraham Lincoln:
- Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
- And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.
- My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.
and these from George Washington:
- My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.
- 99% of failures come from people who make excuses.
- In politics as in philosophy, my tenets are few and simple. The leading one of which, and indeed that which embraces most others, is to be honest and just ourselves and to exact it from others, meddling as little as possible in their affairs where our own are not involved. If this maxim was generally adopted, wars would cease and our swords would soon be converted into reap hooks and our harvests be more peaceful, abundant, and happy
- “On matters of style, swim with the current, on matters of principle, stand like a rock.” ―Thomas Jefferson
- “It’s easier to do a job right, than to explain why you didn’t.” ― Martin Van Buren
- “There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It really matters very little whether they are behind the wheel of a truck or running a business or bringing up a family. They teach the truth by living it.”―James Garfield
- “Never waste a minute thinking about people you don’t like.” ― Dwight D. Eisenhower
- “Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, leave the rest to God.” ― Ronald Reagan
There have been some incredible orators who held the office of president. Some of the above phrases have a brilliant cadence to them. Others are simple and yet still poignant. As you think about these words, think about your own writing. Is there a better turn of the phrase you can use? Is there a way to smooth your prose so it isn’t clunky (like using the word “clunky” in a sentence!). Can you wait a few moments before you spill your thoughts on the screen so that they may be seasoned with a measure of grace. Who knows maybe your words will touch someone’s heart today and bring light into our dark world.
Presidential trivia: Did you know that Ulysses S. Grant’s autobiography had a rather famous publisher? Published shortly after his death in 1885 (he finished the work days before he passed away) the two volume work sold 350,000 copies. His publisher? Mark Twain. Many feel it is the greatest presidential memoir ever written.
[By the way, this is not a post about politics nor is this blog a place to voice political opinions. Please keep to the topic of writing and not the politics of your country of residence or elsewhere. Thanks!]
Wonderful reminder Steve. Thank you for sharing today.. love the quote by Ronald Reagan. A great goal for all of us.
Thanks for sharing these, Steve. Great way to celebrate Presidents’ Day.
Good quotes all and a good reminder. I do often wonder though, how many of these wonderful words were written by someone other than the speaker.
Just a thought.
That is a good point. A little “presidential history.”
Judson Welliver is understood to be the first official presidential speechwriter. He wrote for Warren Harding in 1921.
However there are some scholars who believe that Alexander Hamilton helped George Washington with some of his speeches.
While modern era presidents utilize speech writers it is well known that every one of them edits, changes, and has their speeches re-written.
One of the more famous phrases from Franklin Roosevelt made was referring to the attack on Pearl Harbor. “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy…” The original typewritten speech read “a date which will live in world history.”
Roosevelt made hand-written changes to the speech before he gave it. The difference is that in this case he had dictated the speech to his secretary first, he didn’t use writer for that particular radio address. However it is well known that Harry Hopkins wrote Roosevelt’s third inaugural address.
You can see a picture of his edits of the “date of infamy” speech here:
Lovely. A wonderful reminder of the power, beauty, and lasting effect of well written words. Thank you.
I often do this very thing in the rewrite, after I’ve hammered the STORY into my word processor. I find the editing process is easier for me to look for cliches, tired turns of phrase, and so forth.
One tip I can share for helping liven the prose and remove tired old turns of phrase is to use verbs in what I call “descriptive” fashion. Here’s an example of an opening of one of my recent works in progress:
“A glittering object bounced off the window sill, bobbled across the area carpet, and thud to a stop against my left shoe. You learn a lot about tactical response at Glynco, but steps to take when a grenade lands at your feet isn’t part of the core curriculum.”
Those aren’t life-altering sentences to change the course of human events, of course. But hopefully they speak to Steve’s point and several folks will find this a helpful example.
Thank you for sharing these quotes. Very interesting.
Ah, but Steve. The word “clunky” works beautifully in that sentence because of the smooth prose that leads up to it. So clunky needn’t be clunky at all. But you knew that, right?
I think Abraham Lincoln would have been the most difficult president to follow, even if he hadn’t been assassinated. Andrew Johnson was impeached and acquitted, but he had a few quotes worth remembering.
Some show wisdom: “The legislator or ruler who has the wisdom and magnanimity to retrace his steps when convinced of error will sooner or later be rewarded with the respect and gratitude of an intelligent and patriotic people.”
One is especially appropriate for writers: “It’s a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.”
But keep in mind that Lincoln was HATED, especially by the media and politicians of the day. In the Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, IL, there’s a “hall of whispers” that you walk through, while whispering voices read some of the horrid things said about Lincoln and his wide. Cruel, spiteful words. So while we now see him as a great president, back then most of the country would have welcomed most anyone in his place. Just shows how blind people can be.
I’m always surprised at how a good quote moves my heart. The ones you shared by Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan spoke to me the most.
Your words encourage me to re-evaluate my own story and see if there are words that will more eloquently convey meaning. Really enjoyed this post, Steve.
Brennan S. McPherson
It’s no surprise that experts claim roughly a third of the Bible is poetry. When God speaks, he says things beautifully. Why wouldn’t we want to do the same? Thanks for the encouragement, Steve!