Welcome to the Quotes Page. 

Given National Service's significant potential for cultural change in America, it is helpful to reflect upon the thoughts of Americans and democratic thinkers that preceded us.

Classical Wisdom (17 Quotes)

"One can draw this conclusion: that where the matter [the people] is not corrupted, tumults and disorders do not hurt; and where it is corrupted, good laws do no good."

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), Written in Discourses on Livy, published 1512-1517

"A country cannot subsist well without liberty, nor liberty without virtue."

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Swiss-born Philosopher, 1712-1778)

"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.  As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."

Ben Franklin (1706-1790) 

"Whenever we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary."

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

"Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.  Say not that thousands are gone, turn out your tens of thousands; throw not the burden of the day upon Providence, but "show your faith by your works," that God may bless you.  It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all.  The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike.  The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his [sic] children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy.  I love the man [sic] that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.  'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death."

Thomas Paine  December 23, 1776

"Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics."

John Adams  April 16, 1776 (Written in a letter to Mercy Warren)

“It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a Free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his [sic] personal services to the defense of it.” 

George Washington 1783 (Written at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War) 

"It is certainly true that a popular government cannot flourish without virtue in the people."

Richard Henry Lee  March 5, 1786 (Written in a letter to Colonel Mortin Pickett)                          Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794) was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and our 6th 'President in Congress' under the Articles of Confederation.

"Is there no virtue among us?  If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.  No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure.  To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea."

James Madison  June 20, 1788 (Speech given in Richmond at the Virgina Ratifying Convention for the US Constitution) 

"But it proves more forcibly the necessity of obliging every citizen to be a soldier; this was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free State.  Where there is no oppression there will be no pauper hirelings."

Thomas Jefferson 1813 (Written in a letter to James Monroe)

“We must train and classify the whole of our male citizens, and make military instruction a regular part of collegiate education.  We can never be safe till this is done."

Thomas Jefferson  June 18, 1813 (Written in a letter to James Monroe)


"The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army.  Their system was to make every man [sic] a soldier, and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared.  This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so."

Thomas Jefferson  September 10, 1814 (Written in a letter to Thomas Cooper) 

"I apprehend no danger to our country from a foreign foe...  Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter.  From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence, I must confess that I do apprehend some danger."

Daniel Webster  June 1, 1837 (Speech Delivered in Madison, Indiana) 

“In the various states of society, armies are recruited from very different motives.  Barbarians are urged by the love of war; the citizens of a free republic may be prompted by a principle of duty; the nobles of a monarchy are animated by a sentiment of honor; but the timid and luxurious inhabitants of a declining empire must be lured into the service by the hopes of profit, or compelled by the dread of punishment.”

Edward Gibbon 1855, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

"The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous."

Frederick Douglass 1885 (Speech given in Washington, DC) 

"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…”

Abraham Lincoln  November 19, 1863 (Gettysburg Address)

Conventional Wisdom (7 Quotes)

"Liberty means responsibility.  That is why most men dread it."

George Bernard Shaw 1903 (Taken from his play "Man and Superman")

“Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man [sic] who has demonstrated through
voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage.”

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), Written in his book Starship Troopers, 1959 [Chapter 12, Page 144]

“A free state can not continue to be democratic in peace and autocratic in war.  Standing armies threaten government by the people, not because they consciously seek to pervert liberty, but because they relieve the people themselves of the duty of self-defense.  A people accustomed to let a special class defend them must sooner or later become unfit for liberty.”

General John McAuley Palmer, US Army (1870-1955)  John McAuley Palmer was the 20th century intellectual father of the citizen-soldier military.  He was a strong force behind the National Defense Act of 1920, a mentor to General George C. Marshall, and advised the World War II War Department on the administration of the largest citizen-soldier force in US History.  The picture above shows him marching to the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921 (only photo available).

"And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

John F. Kennedy  January 20, 1961 (Delivered in his Inaugural Address) 

"Since the days of Greece and Rome when the word 'citizen' was a title of honor, we have often seen more emphasis put on the rights of citizenship than on its responsibilities.  And today, as never before in the free world, responsibility is the greatest right of citizenship and service is the greatest of freedom's privileges."

Robert F. Kennedy  September 29, 1962 (Speech at the University of San Francisco Law School) 

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.  We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream.  It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

Ronald W. Reagan

"Materialistic democracy beckons every man to make himself a king; republican citizenship incites every man to be a knight.  National service, like gravity, is something we could accustom ourselves to, and grow to love."

William F. Buckley, Jr.  1990, Written in his book Gratitude: Reflections on What We Owe to Our Country