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Government Quotes

Quotations on the roles and character of government

"Canada is like an old cow. The West feeds it. Ontario and Quebec milk it. And you can well imagine what it's doing in the Maritimes."  Tommy Douglas, Former Saskatchewan Premier and Leader of the Federal New Democratic Party

"The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments."  William H. Borah

"Government is nothing more than the combined force of society, or the united power of the multitude, for the peace, order, safety, good and happiness of the people."  John Adams

"Ambition is one of the ungovernable passions of the human heart. The love of power is insatiable and uncontrollable."  John Adams

"Public business must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or other. If wise man decline, others will not; if honest man refuse it, others will not."  John Adams

"If worthless men are sometimes at the head of affairs, it is, I believe, because worthless mean are at the tail and middle."  John Adams

"Governments should fear weariness above all. Once it sets in, it is hard to dispel and almost invariably presages decline and eventual defeat." The Economist

''There are always great dangers in letting the best be the enemy of the good.''  Roy Jenkins

"A leader is a dealer in hope."  Napoleon Bonaparte

"Governments need armies to protect them from their enslaved and oppressed subjects." Tolstoy

"I think myself that we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious." Thomas Jefferson

"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries." Winston Churchill

"You know the one thing that's wrong with this country? Everyone gets a chance to have their fair say." President William Jefferson Clinton 5/29/93

"The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first." Thomas Jefferson

"A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both." Dwight D. Eisenhower

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government. Thomas Jefferson

"Everyone wants to live at the expense of the State. They forget that the State wants to live at the expense of everyone." Fredrick Bastiat

"I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive." Thomas Jefferson

"There is but one element of government, and that is THE PEOPLE. From this element spring all governments. For a nation to be free, it is only necessary that she wills it. For a nation to be slave, it is only necessary that she wills it." John Adams

"Power is not alluring to pure minds." Thomas Jefferson

"When government accepts responsibility for people, then people no longer take responsiblitiy for themselves. George Pataki

"Most bad government has grown out of too much government." Thomas Jefferson

"You need only reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence." Charles Austin Beard

"If a government were put in charge of the Sahara Desert, within five years, they'd have a shortage of sand." Milton Friedman

"What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?" Thomas Jefferson

"A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away." Barry Goldwater

"A silent majority and government by the people is incompatible." Tom Hayden

"Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread." Thomas Jefferson

"Fiftyone percent of a nation can establish a totalitarian regime, suppress minorities and still remain democratic." Erik von Kuehnelt Leddihn

"The government's view of the economy can 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." Ronald Reagan

"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. Thomas Jefferson.

"The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem." Milton Friedman

"If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate." Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

"A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves." Bertrand de Jouvenal

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Thomas Jefferson

"Wherever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship." Harry S. Truman

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." Kierkegaard

"In any free society, the conflict between social conformity and individual liberty is permanent, unresolvable, and necessary." Kathleen Norris

"Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God." Thomas Jefferson

"One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." Plato

"Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other." Ronald Reagan

"Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent." Adam Smith

"A leader in the Democratic Party is a boss, in the Republican Party he is a leader." Harry S. Truman

"Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one." Thomas Paine

"Today the nations of the world may be divided into two classes - the nations in which the government fears the people, and the nations in which the people fear the government."  Amos R. E. Pinochet

"Fire, water and government know nothing of mercy." Albanian Proverb

"It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong." Voltaire

"Pro is to con as progress is to Congress." Anonymous

"Sure there are dishonest men in local government. But there are dishonest men in national government too." Richard M. Nixon

"The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments." William H. Borah

"As a rule, the Government appoints its friends."  Sir Hector Langevin, Canadian Cabinet Minister

"Even when the experts all agree, they may well be mistaken." Bertrand Russell

"Would it not be simpler
If the Government
Dissolved the people
And elected another?"  Bertolt Brecht

“The natural tendency of representative government, as of modern civilisation, is towards collective mediocrity: and this tendency is increased by all reductions and extensions of the franchise, their effect being to place the principal power in the hands of classes more and more below the highest level of instruction in the community.”  John Stuart Mill

"Any participation, even in the smallest public function, is useful." John Stuart Mill

"Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but, unlike charity, it should end there." Clare Booth Luce

"It can produce cynicism if people believe that the process is merely something that has to happen; they almost become bit players in the process, arriving at decisions that are already made. I emphasise the importance of people knowing that their participation is for real, and that it can affect the outcome. We should not allow public sector managers simply to tick a box to say that they have done the participation bit; participation should contribute to the decision-making process. If it does not, we will genuinely undercut all the good things that are happening." Tony Wright, British MP

"I wouldn't say voters are stupid. But the same voter who wants unlimited services also does not want to pay for it. There's a disconnect."  Phil Talmadge, former Washington Supreme Court judge and legislator.

"Public opinion in this country is everything." Abraham Lincoln

"Predominant opinions are generally the opinions of the generation that is vanishing." Benjamin Disraeli

"Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." John F. Kennedy

"Predominant opinions are generally the opinions of the generation that is vanishing." Benjamin Disraeli

"Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." John F. Kennedy

"I have one share in corporate Earth, and I am nervous about the management."  E.B. White

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the rights of the people by the gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."   James Madison

"A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral."  Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!" Abraham Lincoln

"In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences." Robert Green Ingersoll

"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."  Louis Dembitz Brandeis

"History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided."  Konrad Adenauer

"Bureaucracies have a natural tendency not to cooperate, coordinate or consolidate with each other. They won't cooperate with each other - unless they are forced to do so by political level authority." Richard Holbrooke, US Diplomat

"Regulations are government embedding and marbling its way into and out of successive layers of societal activity. It is government deconstructing, rebuilding, renovating and expanding a little each day. The regulatory machinery may move a little faster or a little slower, but like rust, it never sleeps."  Scott Proudfoot, Hillwatch

"In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us." Thich Nhat Hanh

"It is the characteristic of the most stringent censorships that they give credibility to the opinions they attack." Voltaire

"It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done."  Oscar Wilde

"We cannot work or eat or drink; we cannot buy or sell or own anything; we cannot go to a ball game or a hockey game or watch TV without feeling the effects of government. We cannot marry or educate our children, cannot be sick, born or buried without the hand of government somewhere intervening. Government gives us railways, roads and airlines; sets the conditions that affect farms and industries; manages or mismanages the life and growth of the cities. Government is held responsible for social problems, and for pollution and sick environments. Government is our creature. We make it, we are ultimately responsible for it, and, taking the broad view, in Canada weave considerable reason to be proud of it. Pride, however, like patriotism, can never be a static thing; there are always new problems posing new challenges. The closer we are to government, and the more we know about it, the more we can do to help meet these challenges."  Canadian Senator Eugene Forsey

"The idea of imposing restrictions on a free economy to assure freedom of competition is like breaking a man's leg to make him run faster."  Morris R. Sayre

"You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." Abraham Lincoln

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future." President John F. Kennedy

"It is the responsibility of the citizens to support their government. It is not the responsibility of the government to support its citizens." President Grover Cleveland

"His administration apparently means to define itself as a television program instead of a government…I don’t know if it can please both its sponsors and its intended audience." Lewis Lapham, Harpers’ Editor talking of the Clinton Administration

"Economics are the method; the object is to change the soul." Margaret Thatcher

"You never reach the promised land. You can march towards it." James Callaghan, British Prime Minister

"I repeat, that all power is a trust, that we are accountable for its exercise, and that, from the people, and for the people, all springs, and all must exist." Benjamin Disraeli

"The function of government is to calm, rather than to excite agitation." Viscount Palmerston, British Prime Minister

"Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cutting hair." George Burns

"A wise government knows how to enforce with temper, or to conciliate with dignity." George Grenville, British Prime Minister

"Civilization and profits go hand in hand." Calvin Coolidge

"I believe there's something out there watching over us. Unfortunately, it's the government.”  Woody Allen

"As Clerk of the Privy Council, a particular concern of mine revolves around the governance challenge embodied in the dichotomy between fast and slow. Our era of accelerated change has been compared to a 100-meter dash that is run over and over and over again. There are times when the speed of the public interest must be more deliberative — slower in real time — than private sector deliberations. There are usually more interests at stake in public sector issues, more people to be brought along and a more subtle, or at least different, calculation than the private sector’s bottom line. Decisions are typically hard to reverse and there is intense pressure to get it right the first time. Governance in a democracy takes time — even if you don’t stop to recount the chads. But there are instances when it cannot be otherwise and still remain a democracy." Mel Cappe, Clerk of the Privy Council

"If there is anything that puzzles me in this game, it is that the longer that you are in the job of prime minister, the harder you have to work to do your job. With anything else ....you get to know the ropes pretty well and it becomes easy.  I feel the more you know, the more you have to know and  the more problems come at you.  It is certainly not because I do not delegate." Pierre Trudeau

"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past." Thomas Jefferson

"Government is merely an attempt to express the conscience of everybody, the average conscience of the nation, in the rules that everybody is commanded to obey. That is all it is." Woodrow Wilson

"All societies of men must be governed is some way or other. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet." Robert Winthrop

"Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them." Thomas Paine

"Power corrupts, but absolute power is a blast."  Junior White House staff

"Nearly all men can withstand adversity; If you want to test a man's character, give him power. " Abraham Lincoln

"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." C. S. Lewis

"Everyone wants to live at the expense of the State. They forget that the State lives at the expense of everyone." Frederic Bastiat

"A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.”   Barry Goldwater

"All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships." George Bernard Shaw

"Government is like an onion. To understand it, you have to peel through many different layers. Most outsiders never get beyond the first or second layer." Warren Bennis

"Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few." David Hume

"In public affairs, stupidity is more dangerous than knavery, because it is harder to fight." Woodrow Wilson

"Which government is the best? That which teaches us to govern ourselves." Goethe

"Business has three main constituencies; government has dozens.   What constitutes a signal achievement in one constituency’s eyes… may be a disaster to others."   Timothy Plumtre

"The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws."  Tacitus

"A good government implies two things; first fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained."  James Madison

"What makes equality such a difficult business is that we only want it with our superiors." Henry Becque

"In government, all of the incentive is in the direction of not making mistakes.  You can have 99 successes and nobody notices, and one mistake and you’re dead."  Lou Winnick

"One law for lion and ox is oppression."  William Blake

"It’s a billion here and a billion there; the first thing you know it adds up to real money."  Senator Everett Dirksen

"Much has been said about the analogy between running a business and running a government.  This is a sloppy analogy from a start.  If one simply substitutes  ‘running a business’ on the one hand and ‘governing a parliamentary democracy’ on the other hand the falsity of the conceit is obvious."  Lord Bancroft

"A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul." George Bernard Shaw

"A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves."  Unknown

"Giving money and power to Government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys."  P. J. O’Rourke

"Every central government worships uniformity: uniformity relieves it from inquiry into an infinity of details, which must be attended to if rules have to be adapted to different men, instead of indiscriminately subjecting all men to the same rule." De Tocqueville

"A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them." P. J. O’Rourke

"Governing a large state is like boiling a small fish." Lao-Tzu

"Business and government administration are alike in all unimportant respects." Wallace Sayre

"The word government is from the Greek word, which means ‘to steer’.  The job of government is to steer,  not to row the boat.  Delivering services is rowing and government is not very good at rowing."  E. S. Savas

"An atomic energy plant can slip through parliament easily.  A rug in a mayor’s office – an issue everyone can understand – can tie up a municipal council for ages.  The risk is asymmetric.  In government, what gets you in a hassle is seldom the huge decisions that were clearly wrong, it’s the little things that that were clearly trivial by comparison." Anonymous official

"Power worship blurs political judgment because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue.  Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem invincible."  George Orwell

"There is not enough jails, not enough policemen, not enough courts to enforce a law not supported by the people." Hubert Humphrey

"Much of the language of business is competitive, even military, in nature: strategy, tactics, aggressive stances, exploitation of advantage, overcoming the competition, positioning, consolidation of position.  In government, the motivation is not financial advantage and  the context is not the competitive world of the marketplace.   Cabinet’s mandate is the attainment of that elusive goal  good government.   The ends of good government have to do with such abstract matters as social and economic well-being, personal freedom, equality under the law or cultural enhancement.  The possibility of so  many different interpretations of these objectives makes the task of government a good deal more contentious than that of business." Timothy Plumtre

"The art of government is the organization of idolatry."  George Bernard Shaw

"The budget should be balanced; the treasury refilled; public debt should be reduced; the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled; and assistance to foreign lands should be limited, lest the State become bankrupt.   The people should be forced to work and not depend on Government for assistance." Marcus Tullius Cicero

"We have conferred a mystic popularity upon officials whose only virtue is their timidity; while our scorn of rebels and reformers is so great that we have ceased to persecute them.  The capitals and governments of the world are in the hands of caution; and change comes over them only in the night, unseen." Will Durant

"It would be desirable if every Government, when it comes to power, should have its old speeches burnt." Viscount Snowden

"Here is the values we shall find recurring wherever government is opposed: a belief that government, as a necessary evil, should be kept at a minimum; and that legitimate social activity should be provincial, amateur, authentic, spontaneous, candid, homogenous, traditional, popular, organic, right-oriented, religious, voluntary, participatory, and rotational.  Values contrasting with those are not polar opposites, but distant points on the continuum of approaches to government – namely, a belief that government is sometimes a positive good, and that it should be cosmopolitan, expert, authoritative, efficient, confidential, articulated in its parts, progressive, elite, mechanical, duties-oriented, secular, regulatory, and delegative, with a division of labor.  Ideally, government should combine all these values in a tempered way, since one set does not necessarily preclude the other. But…group after group in our history does treat the first cluster of values as endangered by the second, under siege from them." Gary Wills

"The science of constructing a commonwealth or renovating it, or reforming it, is…not to be taught a priori…That which in the first instance is prejudicial may be excellent in its remoter operation, and its excellence may rise even from the ill effects it produces in the beginning.  The reverse also happens; and very plausible schemes, with very pleasing commencements, have often shameful and lamentable conclusions."  Edmund Burke



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