Quotations about   cause

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Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Can Socialists Be Happy?” Tribune (20 Dec 1943) [as John Freeman]
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I’m a pacifist about certain things. I’m a pacifist in the way I define national interest. I use this example frequently: If the Mexicans decided to cross the Texas border with firearms, I would be down there in a moment with a rifle and a whistle to direct the troops to repel them. If the United States is attacked, I will defend it. My problem is the United States’ defending the interests of the Union Oil Company or the United Fruit Company. Those are not American interests. They’re private-money interests, and that bothers me a great deal.

Paul Fussell (1924-2012) American cultural and literary historian, author, academic
“The Initial Shock,” Interview by Sheldon Hackney, Humanities (Nov/Dec 1996)
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Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble — and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.

Ideology — that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations.

Alexander Solzhenitsen (1918-2008) Russian novelist, emigre [Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn]
The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1, Part 1, ch. 4 (1973) [tr. Whitney]
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Added on 7-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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I think one must engage in politics — using the word in a wide sense — and that one must have preferences: that is, one must recognise that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means. As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a moral effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one’s own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Notes on Nationalism” (May 1945)
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To the wrong that needs resistance
To the right that needs assistance
To the future in the distance
Give yourself!

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) American women's suffrage activist
Personal Motto
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Conveyed in a letter from Catt to Aletta Jacobs, after the death of Jacobs' husband.
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Truth is the first casualty in war.

Aeschylus (525-456 BC) Greek dramatist (Æschylus)
(Misattributed)

Variant: "Truth is the first casualty of war."

Not found, as such, in Aeschylus' works. The closest (Fragm. Incert, xi.) is his phrase "God is not averse to deceit in a just cause." Attribution to of the subject phrase to Aeschylus dates only back to 1965. The first recorded use of the phrase as such is from 1915, but even there it is offered as a quotation from an unnamed source.

More discussion of the history of this phrase can be found here and here.
Added on 9-Mar-21 | Last updated 9-Mar-21
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History is thought of largely in nationalist terms, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell’s soldiers slashing Irishwomen’s faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the “right” cause. If one looks back over the past quarter of a century, one finds that there was hardly a single year when atrocity stories were not being reported from some part of the world; and yet in not one single case were these atrocities — in Spain, Russia, China, Hungary, Mexico, Amritsar, Smyrna — believed in and disapproved of by the English intelligentsia as a whole. Whether such deeds were reprehensible, or even whether they happened, was always decided according to political predilection.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Notes on Nationalism” (May 1945)
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It’s a blessing to die for a cause, because you can so easily die for nothing.

Andrew Young (b. 1932) American politician
Interview by Peter Ross Range, Playboy (Jul 1977)
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Added on 25-Feb-21 | Last updated 25-Feb-21
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A good cause has to be careful of the company it keeps.

Rebecca West (1892-1983) British author, journalist, literary critic, travel writer [pseud. for Cicily Isabel Fairfield]
“World of Books: The Greek Way,” Sunday Times of London (23 Aug 1942)
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Because one cause is bad does not make the opposing cause good.

Fay Weldon (b. 1931) English author, essayist, playwright
Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen (1984)
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God befriend us as our cause is just.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry IV, Part 1, Act 5, sc. 1, l. 121 [Henry] (1597)
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As a cause becomes more and more successful, the ideas of the people engaged in it are bound to change.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) American birth control activist, sex educator, nurse
Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography, ch. 32 (1938)
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When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim “that aa drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high-road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgement of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Speech, Washingtonian Temperance Society, Springfield, Illinois (22 Feb 1842)
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Added on 21-Jan-21 | Last updated 21-Jan-21
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If you believe you have a just cause, an important message, or a key contribution to make, you will be just as innovative as a college freshman desperate to see his girlfriend six hundred miles away. You will get there any way you can.

Laurie Beth Jones (b. 1952) American author, motivational speaker, leadership coach
Jesus, CEO, “He Was Willing to Do an End Run” (1995)
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One need not go back two thousand years to the time when those who believed in the gospel of Jesus were thrown into the arena or hunted into dungeons to realize how little great beliefs or earnest believers are understood. The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man’s right to his body, or woman’s right to her soul. If, then, from time immemorial, the New has met with opposition and condemnation, why should my beliefs be exempt from a crown of thorns?

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) Lithuanian-American anarchist, activist
“What I Believe,” New York World (19 Jul 1908)
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Added on 3-Dec-20 | Last updated 3-Dec-20
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Ignorance of remote causes disposeth men to attribute all events to the causes immediate and instrumental: for these are all the causes they perceive.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) English philosopher
Leviathan, Part 1, ch. 11 (1651)
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A bad cause seldom fails to betray itself.

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
The Federalist Papers, #41 (19 Jan 1788)
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We are all ready to be savage in some cause. The difference between a good man and a bad one is the choice of the cause.

William James (1842-1910) American psychologist and philosopher
Letter to E. L. Godkin (24 Dec 1895)
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Truth never damages a cause that is just.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
Non-Violence in Peace and War, Vol. 2 (1949)
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There is no wilderness where I can hide from these things, there is no haven where I can escape them; though I travel to the ends of the earth, I find the same accursed system — I find that all the fair and noble impulses of humanity, the dreams of poets and the agonies of martyrs, are shackled and bound in the service of organized and predatory Greed! And therefore I cannot rest, I cannot be silent; therefore I cast aside comfort and happiness, health and good repute — and go out into the world and cry out the pain of my spirit!

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
The Jungle, ch. 28 (1906)
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Added on 22-Oct-20 | Last updated 22-Oct-20
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Great causes are never tried on their merits; but the cause is reduced to particulars to suit the size of the partisans, and the contention is ever hottest on minor matters.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Nature,” Essays: Second Series (1844)
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When great causes are on the move in the world, stirring all men’s souls, drawing them from their firesides, casting aside comfort, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness in response to impulses at once awe-striking and irresistible, we learn that we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
BBC Radio broadcast (16 Jun 1941)
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First published in the Imperial Review (28 Jun 1941).
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A just cause is not ruined by a few mistakes.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) Russian novelist
“Critical Articles: Introduction,” Complete Collected Works (1895)
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It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.

John Jay (1745-1829) American statesman, diplomat, abolitionist, politician, Chief Justice (1789-1795)
The Federalist #4 (7 Nov 1787)
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Added on 30-Sep-20 | Last updated 30-Sep-20
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I give it as my firmest conviction that service to a just cause rewards the worker with more real happiness and satisfaction than any other venture of life.

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) American women's suffrage activist
“The Making of A Pioneer Suffragette,” in The American Scrap Book (1928)
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When a just cause reaches its flood-tide … whatever stands in the way must fall before its overwhelming power.

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) American women's suffrage activist
“Is Woman Suffrage Progressing?” speech, Sixth Convention of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, Stockholm (13 Jun 1911)
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If it be true, that men are miserable because they are wicked, it is likewise true, that many are wicked because they are miserable.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) English poet and critic
Aids to Reflection, “Prudential Aphorisms II” (1831 ed.)
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What I’m suggesting is, stand for yourself, be for something and the hell with it. Because the hand-wringers and the editorialists and the sigh-and-pontificate crowd will be against you, whatever you do.

James Carville (b. 1944) American political consultant
Interview with Joan Walsh, Salon (11 Mar 2002)
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For the Communists offer one precious, fatal boon: they take away the sense of sin. It may or may not be debatable whether a man can live without God; but, if it were possible, we should pass a law forbidding a man to live without the sense of sin.

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties, ch. 1 “The Sheltered Life” (1955)
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Men of faith know that throughout history the crimes committed in liberty’s name have been exceeded only by those committed in God’s name.

Other Authors and Sources
Mills E. Godwin, Governor of Virginia (Dec 1966)

On KKK cross-burnings. Quoted in various papers of the time.
Added on 11-May-20 | Last updated 11-May-20
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If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Fourth Annual Republican Women’s National Conference, Washington, DC (6 Mar 1956)
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You can always hear the people who are willing to sacrifice somebody else’s life. They’re plenty loud and they talk all the time. You can find them in churches and schools and newspapers and congresses. That’s their business. They sound wonderful. Death before dishonor. This ground sanctified by blood. These men who died so gloriously. They shall not have died in vain. Our noble dead.

Hmmmm.

But what do the dead say?

Did anybody ever come back from the dead any single one of the millions who got killed did any one of them ever come back and say by god I’m glad I’m dead because death is always better than dishonor? Did they say I’m glad i died to make the world safe for democracy? Did they say i like death better than losing liberty? Did any of them ever say it’s good to think i got my guts blown out for the honor of my country? Did any of them ever say look at me i’m dead but i died for decency and that’s better than being alive? Did any of them ever say here i am, i’ve been rotting for two years in a foreign grave but it’s wonderful to die for your native land? Did any of them say hurray I died for womanhood and I’m happy, see how I sing even though my mouth is choked with worms?

Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) American screenwriter and novelist [James Dalton Trumbo]
Johnny Got His Gun (1938)
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Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) American union leader, activist, socialist, politician
Statement to the Court (18 Sep 1918)
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On being convicted of Sedition. Often paraphrased: "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
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The biggest sin is sitting on your ass.

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) American lawyer, feminist, civil rights activist
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Gloria Steinem, "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.," Ms. (Mar 1973).

Full quote: "Some people say they won’t work 'inside the system' -- they’re 'waiting for the revolution.' Well, when the ramparts are open, honey, I'll be there. But until then, I'm going to go right on zapping the business and government delinquents, the jockocrats, the fetus fetishists, and all the other niggerizers any way I can. The biggest sin is sitting on your ass."
Added on 21-Jun-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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This is no day for the rabble-rouser, whether he be Negro or white. We must realize that we are grappling with the most weighty social problem of this nation, and in grappling with such a complex problem there is no place for misguided emotionalism. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for the goal of freedom, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice. We must never become bitter. I know how we feel sometime. There is the danger that those of us who have been forced so long to stand amid the tragic midnight of oppression—those of us who have been trampled over, those of us who have been kicked about — there is the danger that we will become bitter. But if we will become bitter and indulge in hate campaigns, the new order which is emerging will be nothing but a duplication of the old order.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Give Us the Ballot,” Speech, Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Washington, DC (1957)
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KATE: One’s religion is whatever he is most interested in, and yours is — Success.

HARRY: Ambition — it is the last infirmity of noble minds.

James Barrie (1860-1937) Scottish novelist and dramatist
The Twelve-Pound Look (1910)
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Just as every conviction begins as a whim so does every emancipator serve his apprenticeship as a crank. A fanatic is a great leader who is just entering the room.

Heywood Broun (1888-1939) American journalist, author
New York World (6 Feb 1928)
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A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man by one which is lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other, ambition. Ambition is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American clergyman and orator
Life Thoughts (1858)
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Sometimes misattributed to Marcus Aurelius.
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Zealots were always hard. Zeal distorts them. Makes the normal impulses convolute. Makes people fearless and greedless and loveless and finally monstrous. I was against zeal. But being against it didn’t make it go away.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Promised Land (1974)
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GERVAIS: Whenever I do a thing about animals, there’s always someone that goes, “What about children dying in Syria?” Yeah, that’s bad, too — can’t we care about both? Sometimes I go, “You carry on all your good work for the fucking children in Syria, and I’ll do this.” I love the fact that there’s a hierarchy of things that you’ve got to care about. I tweeted “I love humans — they’re just not my favorite animal.” That was to annoy people.

GQ: True, though?

GERVAIS: No, I’m not a maniac. Of course humans are my favorite animal. [pauses] But I’ve never met an animal who was a cunt.

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Interview with Chris Heath, GQ (15 May 2013)
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Added on 29-Nov-16 | Last updated 29-Nov-16
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The conflict between the principle of liberty and the fact of slavery is coming gradually to an issue. Slavery has now the power, and falls into convulsions at the approach of freedom. That the fall of slavery is predetermined in the counsels of Omnipotence I cannot doubt; it is a part of the great moral improvement in the condition of man, attested by all the records of history. But the conflict will be terrible, and the progress of improvement perhaps retrograde before its final progress to consummation.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Journal (11 Dec 1838)
Added on 31-Oct-16 | Last updated 31-Oct-16
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I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Where Do We Go From Here?” Southern Christian Leadership Conference Presidential Address (16 Aug 1967)
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If we are devoted to the cause of humanity, we shall soon be crushed and broken-hearted, for we shall often meet with more ingratitude from men than we would from a dog; but if our motive is love to God, no ingratitude can hinder us from serving our fellow men.

Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) Scottish evangelist and teacher
“My Utmost For His Highest” (1927)
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Hell to ships, hell to men, hell to cities.

Aeschylus (525-456 BC) Greek dramatist (Æschylus)
Agamemnon

Speaking of Helen of Troy. The literal translation is "Ship-destroyer, man-destroyer, city-destroyer."
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What the tender and poetic youth dreams to-day, and conjures up with inarticulate speech, is to-morrow the vociferated result of public opinion, and the day after is the character of nations.

Emerson - character of nations - wist_info quote

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
(Attributed)

Quoted in James Comper Gray, The Biblical Museum: Old Testament (1876).
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A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 1 “Introductory” (1859)
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All presidents start out to run a crusade, but after a couple of years they find they are running something less heroic and much more intractable: namely, the presidency.

Cooke - presidents start out to run a crusade - wist_info quote

Alistair Cooke (1908-2004) Anglo-American essayist and journalist
Talk About America, ch. 6 (1981)
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The sun shines and warms and lights us and we have no curiosity to know why this is so; but we ask the reason of all evil, of pain, and hunger, and mosquitoes and silly people

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (18 Aug 1830)
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The humblest citizen of all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of Error.

William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) American lawyer, statesman, politician, orator
Speech, National Democratic Convention, Chicago (Jul 1896)
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Added on 9-Jun-16 | Last updated 17-Sep-20
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Yes, Haven, most of us enjoy preaching, and I’ve got such a bully pulpit!

Roosevelt - bully pulpit - wist_info quote

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
(Attributed)

In George Haven Putnam, The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, Vol. 9, Introduction (1926). Roosevelt's reply when, during his first presidential term, Putnam accused him of tending to preach to people.
Added on 24-May-16 | Last updated 24-May-16
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If a cause be good, the most violent attack of its enemies will not injure it so much as an injudicious defense of it by its friends.

Colton - injudicious defense - wist_info quote

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, #475 (1821 ed.)
Added on 18-May-16 | Last updated 18-May-16
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Obstinacy in a bad cause is but consistency in a good.

Thomas Browne (1605-1682) English physician and author
Religio Medici, Part 1, sec. 25 (1642) [ed. Symonds (1886)]
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Added on 18-May-16 | Last updated 17-Sep-20
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There are things a man must not do even to save a nation.

Kempton - even to save a nation - wist_info quote

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
“To Save a Nation,” America Comes of Age (1963)
Added on 18-Apr-16 | Last updated 18-Apr-16
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Are there no ideals more stirring than those of martial glory? Is this generation conscious of calls to the service of native land in ways no more worthy than the way of taking a musket and killing somebody? You ask, in the language of Prof. James, for a moral equivalent for war. A patriot needs only look about to find numberless causes that ought to warm the blood and stir the imagination. The dispelling of ignorance and the fostering of education, the investigation of disease and the searching out of remedies that will vanquish the giant ills that decimate the race, the inculcation of good feeling in the industrial world, the cause of the aged, the cause of the men and women who had so little chance — tell me, has war anything that beckons as these things beckon with alluring and compelling power? Whoso wants to share the heroism of battle let him join the fight against ignorance and disease — and the mad idea that war is necessary.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) American industrialist and philanthropist
“A Plea for Peace,” New York Times (7 Apr 1907)
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Added on 8-Jan-16 | Last updated 8-Jan-16
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There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not lead single-issue lives.

Lorde - single issue - wist_info quote

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“Learning from the 60s,” speech, Malcolm X weekend, Harvard University (Feb 1982)
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Reprinted in Sister Outsider (1984).
Added on 14-Dec-15 | Last updated 2-Jun-16
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