Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged.

—John Wilkes Booth, 1865

It is a certain sign of a wise government and proceeding, when it can hold men’s hearts by hopes, when it cannot by satisfaction.

—Francis Bacon, 1625

Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

—Ambrose Bierce, 1906

A real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.

—David Foster Wallace, 2000

I am invariably of the politics of the people at whose table I sit, or beneath whose roof I sleep.

—George Borrow, 1843

The affairs of the world are no more than so much trickery, and a man who toils for money or honor or whatever else in deference to the wishes of others, rather than because his own desire or needs lead him to do so, will always be a fool.

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1774

An appeal to the reason of the people has never been known to fail in the long run.

—James Russell Lowell, c. 1865

If you must take care that your opinions do not differ in the least from those of the person with whom you are talking, you might just as well be alone.

—Yoshida Kenko, c. 1330

Treaties, you see, are like girls and roses: they last while they last.

—Charles de Gaulle, 1963

The more corrupt the republic, the more numerous the laws.

—Tacitus, c. 117

The Revolution is made by man, but man must forge his revolutionary spirit from day to day.

—Ernesto Che Guevara, 1968

Every communist must grasp the truth: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

—Mao Zedong, 1938

Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.

—E.B. White, 1944

I shall be an autocrat: that’s my trade. And the good Lord will forgive me: that’s his.

—Catherine the Great, c. 1796

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.

—George Bernard Shaw, 1944

I work for a government I despise for ends I think criminal.

—John Maynard Keynes, 1917

A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard.

—Martin Luther King Jr., c. 1967

Envy is the basis of democracy.

—Bertrand Russell, 1930

The U.S. presidency is a Tudor monarchy plus telephones.

—Anthony Burgess, 1972

There is no method by which men can be both free and equal.

—Walter Bagehot, 1863

To be turned from one’s course by men’s opinions, by blame, and by misrepresentation shows a man unfit to hold office.

—Quintus Fabius Maximus, c. 203 BC

I am no courtesan, nor moderator, nor tribune, nor defender of the people: I am myself the people.

—Maximilien de Robespierre, 1792

People revere the Constitution yet know so little about it—and that goes for some of my fellow senators.

—Robert Byrd, 2005

You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner.

—Aristophanes, c. 424 BC

The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure it is right.

—Judge Learned Hand, 1944

Television has made dictatorship impossible, but democracy unbearable.

—Shimon Peres, 1995

Do that which consists in taking no action, and order will prevail.

—Laozi, c. 500 BC

My people and I have come to an agreement that satisfies us both. They are to say what they please, and I am to do what I please.

—Frederick the Great, c. 1770

You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.

—Mario Cuomo, 1985

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

—H.L. Mencken, 1921

No human life, not even the life of a hermit, is possible without a world which directly or indirectly testifies to the presence of other human beings.

—Hannah Arendt, 1958

The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.

—G.K. Chesterton, 1908

Let him who desires peace prepare for war.

—Vegetius, c. 385

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

—Immanuel Kant, 1784

In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1830

It is impossible to tell which of the two dispositions we find in men is more harmful in a republic, that which seeks to maintain an established position or that which has none but seeks to acquire it.

—Niccolò Machiavelli, c. 1515

All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy.

—Al Smith, 1933

The most hateful torment for men is to have knowledge of everything but power over nothing.

—Herodotus, c. 425 BC

You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.

—Henrik Ibsen, 1882

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham.

—Frederick Douglass, 1855

What experience and history teach is this—that nations and governments have never learned anything from history or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.

—Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1830

I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!

—George H. W. Bush, 1990

O citizens, first acquire wealth; you can practice virtue afterward.

—Horace, c. 8 BC

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

—Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Written laws are like spiderwebs: they will catch, it is true, the weak and poor but would be torn in pieces by the rich and powerful.

—Anacharsis, c. 550 BC

On the loftiest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own rump.

—Michel de Montaigne, 1580

Why has the government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.

—Alexander Hamilton, 1787

Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.

—Paul Valéry, 1943

The vice presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm piss.

—John Nance Garner, c. 1967

Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense—nonsense upon stilts.

—Jeremy Bentham, c. 1832

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

—Lord Acton, 1887

Politics is the art of the possible.

—Otto von Bismarck, 1867

No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed or outlawed or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor will we send against him except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

—Magna Carta, 1215

There is nothing more tyrannical than a strong popular feeling among a democratic people.

—Anthony Trollope, 1862

The first requirement of a statesman is that he be dull.

—Dean Acheson, 1970

The best of all rulers is but a shadowy presence to his subjects.


I say violence is necessary. It is as American as cherry pie.

—H. Rap Brown, 1967

He may be a patriot for Austria, but the question is whether he is a patriot for me.

—Emperor Francis Joseph, c. 1850

Every country has the government it deserves.

—Joseph de Maistre, 1811

Whether for good or evil, it is sadly inevitable that all political leadership requires the artifices of theatrical illusion. In the politics of a democracy, the shortest distance between two points is often a crooked line.

—Arthur Miller, 2001