Wise quotes on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness from every US president

President John F. Kennedy listens while Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg speaks outside the White House in Washington, 1963.

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President John F. Kennedy listens while Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg speaks outside the White House in Washington, 1963.
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P Photo/William J. Smith

We collected some of the finest aphorisms to come from the Oval Office: life lessons from George Washington, leadership advice from Thomas Jefferson, and reflections on character from Abraham Lincoln.

These leaders all had one of the toughest, most important jobs in the world. Here are a few of the things they learned.


George Washington (1789–1797)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

John Adams (1797–1801)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

James Madison (1809–1817)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

James Monroe (1817–1825)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

John Quincy Adams (1825–1829)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Andrew Jackson (1829–1837)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Martin Van Buren (1837–1841)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

William Henry Harrison (1841)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

John Tyler (1841–1845)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

James Polk (1845–1849)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Zachary Taylor (1849–1850)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Millard Fillmore (1850–1853)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Franklin Pierce (1853–1857)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

James Buchanan (1857–1861)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Abraham Lincoln (1861–1965)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Andrew Johnson (1865–1869)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1877)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–1881)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

James Garfield (1881)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Chester Arthur (1881–1885)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Grover Cleveland (1885–1889) (1893–1897)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Benjamin Harrison (1889–1893)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider


William McKinley (1897–1901)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Teddy Roosevelt (1901–1909)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

William Taft (1909–1913)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Warren G. Harding (1921–1923)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider


Herbert Hoover (1929–1933)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933–1945)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Harry S. Truman (1945–1953)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Dwight Eisenhower (1953–1961)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

John F. Kennedy (1961–1963)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Richard Nixon (1969–1974)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Gerald Ford (1974–1977)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Jimmy Carter, Jr. (1977–1981)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Ronald Reagan (1981–1989)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

George H. W. Bush (1989–1993)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Bill Clinton (1993–2001)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

George W. Bush (2001–2009)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Barack Obama (2009–2017)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Donald Trump (2017–present)

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Wikimedia Commons; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Drake Baer contributed to an earlier version of this article.