The 60 Most Classic Harry Truman Quotes about Life and Politics

Harry Truman was the 33rd U.S. president, succeeding after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945 and winning a second term in 1948. He is best known for the Marshall Plan, designed to economically strengthen post-war Europe, and the Truman Doctrine. He also established NATO, which remains until this day as a military treaty and a peace-keeping force.

Truman became president before the end of the second World War. He was known for his internationalist views, and rejected the isolationism that had been popular before the war. He was a champion of the New Deal and wanted to make life better for the average American.

Harry Truman Quotes

The following 60 quotes offer his wisdom and his ideas about life and politics.

  1. “Not all readers become leaders. But all leaders must be readers.”
  2. “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
  3. “It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose your own.”
  4. “Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, riches take wings, those who cheer today may curse tomorrow and only one thing endures – character.”
  5. “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
  6. “Always be sincere, even if you don’t mean it.”
  7. “An optimist is presented with a problem and sees an opportunity. A pessimist is presented with an opportunity and sees a problem.”
  8. “The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.”
  9. “Tact is the ability to step on a man’s toes without messing up the shine on his shoes.”
  10. “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”
  11. “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”
  12. “Selfishness and greed, individual or national, cause most of our troubles.”
  13. “In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first.”
  14. “The buck stops here!”
  15. “We should resolve now that the health of this nation is a national concern; that financial barriers in the way of attaining health shall be removed; that the health of all it’s citizens deserves the help of all the nation.”
  16. “Republicans don’t like people to talk about depressions. You can hardly blame them for that. You remember the old saying: Don’t talk about rope in the house where somebody has been hanged.”
  17. “I never would have agreed to the formulation of the Central Intelligence Agency back in forty-seven, if I had known it would become the American Gestapo.”
  18. “I come to the office each morning and stay for long hours doing what has to be done to the best of my ability. And when you’ve done the best you can, you can’t do any better.”
  19. “We must have strong minds, ready to accept facts as they are.”
  20. “When even one American – who has done nothing wrong – is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth, then all Americans are in peril.”
  21. “Men often mistake notoriety for fame, and would rather be noticed for their vices than not be noticed at all.”
  22. “Show me a man that gets rich by being a politician, and I’ll show you a crook.”
  23. “Dictatorship, by whatever name, is founded on the doctrine that the individual amounts to nothing; that the State is the only one that counts; and that men and women and children were put on earth solely for the purpose of serving the state.”
  24. “Give me a one-handed economist. All my economists say ‘on hand…’, then ‘but on the other…”
  25. “Experience has shown how deeply the seeds of war are planted by economic rivalry and social injustice.”
  26. “Actions are the seeds of fate. Deeds grow into destiny.”
  27. “No nation on this globe should be more internationally minded than America because it was built by all nations.”
  28. ” Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
  29. “I doubt if there is any problem in the world today – social, political or economic – that would not find a happy solution if approached in the spirit of the sermon on the mount.”
  30. “I shall continue to do what I think is right, whether anybody likes it or not.”
  31. “On the one hand, the Republicans are telling industrial workers that the high cost of food in the cities is due to this government’s farm policy. On the other hand, the Republicans are telling the farmers that the high cost of manufactured goods on the farm is due to this government’s labor policy.That’s plain hokum. It’s an old political trick: “If you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em.” But this time it won’t work.”
  32. “Since childhood at my mother’s knee, I have believed in honor, ethics and right living as its own reward. I find a very small minority who agree with me on that premise.”
  33. “The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not to dominate the world.”
  34. “Politics sure is the ruination of many a good man.”
  35. “The dictators of the world say that if you tell a lie often enough, why, people will believe it. Well, if you tell the truth often enough, they’ll believe it and go along with you.”
  36. “There is a lure in power. It can get into a man’s blood just as gambling and lust for money have been known to do.”
  37. “A President cannot always be popular.”
  38. “I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he’d taken a poll in Egypt?”
  39. “Everybody wants something at the expense of everybody else and nobody thinks much of the other fellow.”
  40. “Within the first few months I discovered that being President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.”
  41. “The nature of the congressional investigating committee has suffered violence at the hands of some who have not understood or appreciated the scope and function of such a committee. Too often, in recent times, the committees have been used for publicity rather than for the original purposes intended.”
  42. “But we are only termites on a planet and maybe when we forge too deeply into the planet there will be a reckoning- who knows?”
  43. “My definition of a leader in a free country is a man who can persuade people to do what they don’t want to do, or do what they’re too lazy to do, and like it.”
  44. ” I don’t believe that because peace is difficult that war is inevitable.”
  45. “Nearly every crisis seems to be the worst one, but after it’s over, it isn’t so bad.”
  46. “I once described Washington as a doer surrounded by thinkers. He knew how to make the thinkers work for him, and only a truly superb politician and leader is able to do that.”
  47. “You know when people can get excited over the ordinary things in life, they live.”
  48. “It is important to the peace of the world to understand each other and have full faith in each other’s sincerity. That is all we ask; that is all we want…”
  49. “If you can read this thank a teacher.”
  50. “The only things worth learning are the things you learn after you know it all.”
  51. “I don’t believe in anti-anything. A man has to have a program; you have to be for something, otherwise you will never get anywhere.”
  52. “In most of my campaigns, I find it is best not to mention my opponent by name because, by doing so, it just gives him a chance to get into the headlines.”
  53. “Carry the battle to them. Don’t let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive. And don’t ever apologize for anything.”
  54. “Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and to enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. And the time has now arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and to help them get that protection.”
  55. “Believe and you’re halfway there.”
  56. “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
  57. “Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home–but not for housing. They are strong for labor–but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights. They favor minimum wage–the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all–but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine–for people who can afford them. They consider electrical power a great blessing–but only when the private power companies get their rake-off. They think American standard of living is a fine thing–so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people. And they admire of Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.”
  58. “We must remember that the test of our religious principles lies not just in what we say, not only in our prayers, not even in living blameless lives – but in what we do for others.”
  59. “It is ignorance that causes most mistakes.”
  60. “Human life is something that comes to us from beyond this world, and the purpose of our society is to cherish it and to enable the individual to attain the highest achievement of which he is capable.”
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Harry Truman remains an inspiration

Although Truman was an internationalist, he did not feel the United States should dominate the world. He felt it was the place of the United States to serve the world, and help it become a better world. He wanted Americans to live happier, more productive lives, even if the government had to help. These quotes come to us from a perspective of the desire for justice and freedom for all. We can all use a reminder that no matter what the immediate situation is, we can work together for a better tomorrow.

Harry Truman Video

Here is a great video overview of Truman and his path to the presidency

Image Credit: Rowe, AbbieNational Park Service / Public domain


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