American History Quotes for Every Topic in the U.S. Curriculum


They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. I say a quote is worth 1,000 pictures. They are a great tool for the classroom. An appropriate quote can reflect an event on famous person’s character better than a wall of text.

Example:  “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” J. Robert Oppenheimer

What a great quote to debate. Here is one of the world’s most brilliant scientific minds denigrating himself as an evil doer. But was he? Or did he save hundreds of thousands of lives?

I’ve compiled a list of quotes for American history. It is laid out in chronological order by topic. I wrote a separate article covering quotes for World History units here.

United States History

13 Colonies to the American Revolution

“I am an aristocrat: I love liberty, I hate equality.”  John Randolph

“And here in Florida, Virginia, New-England, and Cannada, is more land than all the people in Christendome can manure, and yet more to spare than all the natives of those Countries can use and cultivate. The natives are only too happy to share: If this be not a reason sufficient to such tender consciences; for a copper kettle and a few toyes, as beads and hatchets, they will sell you a whole Country.” John Smith

“Let the people think they govern and they will be governed.” William Penn

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Thomas Paine

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Patrick Henry

The New Nation

“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Thomas Jefferson

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” George Washington

“I fear that in every elected office, members will obtain an influence by noise not sense. By meanness, not greatness. By ignorance, not learning, by contracted hearts, not large souls. I fear, too, that it will be impossible to convince and persuade people to establish wise regulations.” John Adams

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin

constitution puzzle
Want a word puzzle covering the Constitution? Download it here.

War of 1812

Strike wherever we can reach the enemy, at sea and on land. But if we fail, let us fail like men, lash ourselves to our gallant gars, and expire together in one common struggle, fighting for free trade and seamen’s rights. Henry Clay

“I believe that in four weeks from the time a declaration of war is heard on our frontier, the whole of Upper Canada and a part of Lower Canada will be in our power.” John C. Calhoun

“Then, in that hour of deliverance, my heart spoke. Does not such a country, and such defenders of their country, deserve a song?” Francis Scott Key

President Andrew Jackson

“To the victors belong the spoils.” Andrew Jackson

“I have always been afraid of banks.” Andrew Johnson

“There is a power in public opinion in this country- and I thank God for it: for it is the most honest and best of all powers- which will not tolerate an incompetent or unworthy man to hold in his weak or wicked hands the lives and fortunes of his fellow-citizens.” Martin Van Buren

“Is short, written with some elegance, and remarkable chiefly for a significant threat of Reform.” John Quincy Adams commenting on Jackson’s inaugural address

“Removal “is a gentle, almost antiseptic word for one of the harshest, most crudely opportunistic acts in American history.” Charles Hudson

“There is no other course for us but to turn our faces to our new homes toward the setting sun.” member of the Choctaw

Westward Expansion

“…our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.” John O’Sullivan, journalist

“Passed six fresh graves!… Oh, ’tis a hard thing to die far from friends and home—to be buried in a hastily dug grave without shroud or coffin—the clods filled in and then deserted, perhaps to be food for wolves…” Esther McMillan Hanna, describing the trip west on the Oregon trail.

“When a white army battles Indians and wins, it is called a great victory, but if they lose it is called a massacre.” – Chiksika, Shawnee

The homestead policy was established only after long and earnest resistance; experience proves its wisdom. The lands in the hands of industrious settlers, whose labor creates wealth and contributes to the public resources, are worth more to the United States than if they had been reserved as a solitude for future purchasers. Andrew Johnson

westward expnion word puzzle
Want a word puzzle for Westward Expansion? Download it here.

Antebellum

“Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.” Frederick Douglas

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman

“…Slavery, the very source of our existence, the greatest blessing both for Master & Slave that could have been bestowed upon us.” Stephan Dodson Ramseur, Confederate general

“Mr. President, the cause of this great discontent in the country, the cause of the evils which we now suffer and which we now fear, originates chiefly from questions growing out of the respective rights of the different States and the unfortunate subject of slavery…” Senator John J. Crittenden

Civil War abe lincoln

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” President Abraham Lincoln

“I worked night and day for twelve years to prevent the war, but I could not. The North was mad and blind, would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came.” Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy

“We’ll fight them, sir, ’til hell freezes over, and then, sir, we will fight them on the ice.” Civil War Soldier

I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving. Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate Army

“There are many men who would have done better than I did under the circumstances in which I found myself. If I had never held command, if I had fallen, there were 10,000 behind who would have followed the contest to the end and never surrendered the Union.” Ulysses S. Grant, Commander of the Union Army

civil war puzzle
Free word puzzle downloads available for the Civil War and dozens more? You can view the entire library of World History puzzles here and American History puzzles here.

Reconstruction

“This is your country as well as anybody else’s country. This country is founded upon the principle of equality. He that is meritorious and virtuous, intellectual and well informed, must stand highest, without regard to color.” President Andrew Johnson

“Go to the depot here, now, and what will you see? A well-dressed colored lady, with her little children by her side, whom she has brought up intelligently and with refinement, as much so as white children, comes to the cars, and where is she shown to? Into the smoking car, where men are cursing, swearing, spitting on the floor.” Hiram Rhodes Revels, First Black Senator

“One reads the truer deeper facts of Reconstruction with a great despair. It is at once so simple and human, and yet so futile. There is no villain, no idiot, no saint. There are just men; men who crave ease and power, men who know want and hunger, men who have crawled.” W.E.B. DuBois

“No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” Booker T. Washington

Gilded Age

“Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” Andrew Carnegie

“I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.” John D. Rockefeller

“Well, I don’t know as I want a lawyer to tell me what I cannot do. I hire him to tell how to do what I want to do.” JP Morgan

“Who are the oppressors? The few: the king, the capitalist and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who are the oppressed? The many: the nations of the earth; the valuable personages; the workers; they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat.” Mark Twain

Gilded Age puzzle
Free download – word puzzle for the gilded age and all topics in history. You can view the entire library of World History puzzles here and American History puzzles here.

Progressive Era

“They use everything about the hog except the squeal.” Upton Sinclair, “The Jungle”

“Our aim is not to do away with corporations; on the contrary, these big aggregations are an inevitable development of modern industrialism. … We are not hostile to them; we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to subserve the public good. We draw the line against misconduct, not against wealth.” President Theodore Roosevelt

“I declare to you that woman must not depend upon the protection of man, but must be taught to protect herself, and there I take my stand.” Susan B. Anthony

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” Jane Addams, Reformer

Progressive Era Puzzle
Want a word puzzle for the Progressive Era? Download it here.

World War I

“I come from the South and I know what war is, for I have seen its terrible wreckage and ruin. It is easy for me as President to declare war. I do not have to fight, and neither do the gentlemen on the Hill who now clamor for it. It is some poor farmer’s boy, or the son of some poor widow – who will have to do the fighting and dying.” President Woodrow Wilson

“All through the long night those big guns flashed and growled just like the lightning and the thunder when it storms in the mountains at home. And, oh my, we had to pass the wounded. And some of them were on stretchers going back to the dressing stations. And some of them were lying around, moaning and twitching. And the dead were all along the road. And it was wet and cold.” U.S. soldier, 1918

“All blood runs red.” Painted on the side of his plane, Eugene Bullard, first Black air force pilot

“In western Europe, the military machine, with its thousands of wheels, costing millions to maintain, cannot stand still for long. One cannot fight a war for one or two years, from position to position, in 12 day long battles until both combatants are completely exhausted and weakened and forced to sue for peace. We must attempt to defeat our enemies quickly and decisively.” Count von Schlieffen, German strategist

Roaring Twenties

“Prohibition has made nothing but trouble.”  Al Capone, Gangster

“Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. I do not feel there will be soon if ever a 50 or 60 point break from present levels, such as (bears) have predicted. I expect to see the stock market a good deal higher within a few months.” Irving Fisher, economist, 1929

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun?… Or does it explode?” Langston Hughes

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success. Henry Ford

Great Depression

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“Wearing our shade hats, with handkerchiefs tied over our faces and Vaseline in our nostrils, we have been trying to rescue our home from the accumulations of wind-blown dust which penetrates wherever air can go. It is an almost hopeless task, for there is rarely a day when at some time the dust clouds do not roll over.” Mrs. Henderson, Oklahoma farmer

“While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have passed the worst and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover.” President Hoover

“A better relationship between labor and management is the high purpose of this Act. By assuring the employees the right of collective bargaining it fosters the development of the employment contract on a sound and equitable basis.” Robert Wagner on the National Labor Relations Act

World War II

“I thought of a remark . . . that the United States is like a ‘gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.’ Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”  Winston S. Churchill

“It was close; but that’s the way it is in war. You win or lose, live or die — and the difference is just an eyelash.” General Douglas MacArthur

The atom bomb was no ‘great decision.’ It was merely another powerful weapon in the arsenal of righteousness. President Harry Truman

We secured peace for our country for one and a half years, as well as an opportunity of preparing our forces for defense if fascist Germany risked attacking our country in defiance of the pact. This was a definite gain to our country and a loss for fascist Germany.” Joseph Stalin

“Fascism accepts the individual only insofar as his interests coincide with the state’s.” Benito Mussolini

ww2 puzzle
Download this word puzzle and other from every unit in history. You can view the entire library of World History puzzles here and American History puzzles here.

Cold War

“When we hang the capitalists they will sell us the ropes we use.” Joseph Stalin

Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time, and ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down — they are truly down. Senator Joseph McCarthy

“[we are] going to continue to fight communism. Now I am going to tell you how we are not going to fight communism. We are not going to transform our fine FBI into a Gestapo secret police. That is what some people would like to do. We are not going to try to control what our people read and say and think. We are not going to turn the United States into a right-wing totalitarian country in order to deal with a left-wing totalitarian threat.” President Harry Truman

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev…Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! President Ronald Reagan

Civil Rights 1960’s

“A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.” Malcolm X

“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.” Gloria Steinem

“Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Anti-war chant

1970s

If I were to make public these tapes, containing blunt and candid remarks on many different subjects, the confidentiality of the office of the president would always be suspect. President Richard Nixon

“I believe Watergate shows that the system did work. Particularly the Judiciary and the Congress, and ultimately an independent prosecutor working in the Executive Branch. The failure of the system to deal quickly was attributable to Nixon’s lying, stonewalling and refusal to come clean. So it took 26 months for the final truth to be known. Bob Woodward, Watergate Reporter

“These students are going to have to find out,” the general replies grimly, “what law and order is all about.” Guard Commander General Robert H. Canterbury at Kent State Massacre

“Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use… Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.” President Jimmy Carter

1980s

“I think I would have been reelected easily if I had been able to rescue our hostages from the Iranians” President Jimmy Carter

Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”  President Ronald Reagan

“How do you tell a Communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.” President Ronald Reagan

“Say yes to your life. And when it comes to drugs and alcohol just say no.” First Lady Nancy Reagan

1990s

“We don’t want an America that is closed to the world. What we want is a world that is open to America.” President George HW Bush

“Read my lips: no new taxes.” President George HW Bush

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” President Bill Clinton

“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” President Bill Clinton

“I have a goal to destroy as much as possible, and I must not be sidetracked by my feelings of sympathy, mercy or any of that” Eric Harris, Columbine shooter

“The Internet is the printing press of the technology era.” Jim Barksdale, CEO of Netscape Communications

9/11

“There is America, hit by God in one of its softest spots. Its greatest buildings were destroyed, thank God for that.” Osama bin Laden

America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. President George W. Bush

“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.” Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl

“The attacks of 9/11 were intended to break our spirit. Instead we have emerged stronger and more unified. We feel renewed devotion to the principles of political, economic and religious freedom, the rule of law and respect for human life.” New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani

President Obama

“Now, as a nation, we don’t promise equal outcomes, but we were founded on the idea everybody should have an equal opportunity to succeed. No matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from, you can make it. That’s an essential promise of America. Where you start should not determine where you end up.” President Barack Obama

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of [President Barack] Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.” Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin

“The thing they’re trying to stop is 30-million people getting health insurance. That’s the substance.” Chris Hayes, news anchor

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” President Barack Obama

President Trump

“The media is — I think one of the greatest terms I’ve come up with — is fake.” President Donald Trump

“Why would Kim Yun Un insult me by calling me ‘old’ when I would never call him ‘short and fat’. Oh, well. I’ve tried so hard to be his friend; maybe some day that will happen.” President Donald Trump

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge” President Barack Obama

“The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate. I’m not impartial about this at all.” Senator Mitch McConnell

Conclusion

That is a smattering of interesting quotes from out forefathers to the present day. Pondering them can incite discussion and debate. They can also cause disquiet. Use any or all in your classroom. And always remember to teach AND thrive!

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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