Quotations about   public opinion

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A strong man must be militant as well as moderate. He must be a realist as well as an idealist. If I am to merit the trust invested in me by some of my race, I must be both of these things. This is why nonviolence is a powerful as well as a just weapon. If you confront a man who has long been cruelly misusing you, and say, “Punish me, if you will; I do not deserve it, but I will accept it, so that the world will know I am right and you are wrong,” then you wield a powerful and a just weapon. This man, your oppressor, is automatically morally defeated, and if he has any conscience, he is ashamed. Wherever this weapon is used in a manner that stirs a community’s, or a nation’s, anguished conscience, then the pressure of public opinion becomes an ally in your just cause.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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Added on 18-Jan-19 | Last updated 18-Jan-19
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We boast our emancipation from many superstitions; but if we have broken any idols, it is through a transfer of idolatry. What have I gained, that I no longer immolate a bull to Jove or to Neptune, or a mouse to Hecate; that I do not tremble before the Eumenides, or the Catholic Purgatory, or the Calvinistic Judgment-day, — if I quake at opinion, the public opinion as we call it; or at the threat of assault, or contumely, or bad neighbors, or poverty, or mutilation, or at the rumor of revolution, or of murder? If I quake, what matters it what I quake at?

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Character,” Essays: Second Series (1844)
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Added on 13-Nov-18 | Last updated 13-Nov-18
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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).
Added on 4-Aug-16 | Last updated 4-Aug-16
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Do what you think is right and to hell with your popularity.

Brian Mulroney (b. 1939) Canadian politician, Prime Minister (1984-93)
Remark to US President Bill Clinton (2 Jun 1993)
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Quoted by Mulroney in a press conference.
Added on 30-Mar-16 | Last updated 30-Mar-16
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How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.

Marcus Aurelius (121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations [tr. Staniforth (1964)]
Added on 14-Jan-16 | Last updated 14-Jan-16
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There’s a brave fellow! There’s a man of pluck!
A man who’s not afraid to say his say,
Though a whole town’s against him.

Longfellow - brave pluck - wist_info quote

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
John Endicott, Act 2, sc. 2 (1868)
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Added on 8-Jan-16 | Last updated 8-Jan-16
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He failed to realized that the public is bored by foreign affairs until a crisis arises; and that then it is guided by feelings rather than thoughts.

Harold Nicolson (1886-1968) English diplomat, author, diarist, politician
The Evolution of Diplomacy, 4.3 (1954)
Added on 13-Oct-15 | Last updated 13-Oct-15
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The political leaders with whom we are familiar generally aspire to be superstars rather than heroes. The distinction is crucial. Superstars strive for approbation; heroes walk alone. Superstars crave consensus; heroes define themselves by the judgment of a future they see it as their task to bring about. Superstars seek success in a technique for eliciting support; heroes pursue success as the outgrowth of their inner values.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
“With Faint Praise,” New York Times Book Review (16 Jul 1995)
Added on 9-Oct-15 | Last updated 9-Oct-15
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No law is stronger than is the public sentiment where it is to be enforced.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Letter to John J. Crittenden (22 Dec 1859)
Added on 17-Sep-15 | Last updated 17-Sep-15
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When ye build yer triumphal arch to yer conquerin’ hero, Hinnisssey, build it out of bricks so the people will have somethin’ convanient to throw at him as he passes through.

Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) American humorist and journalist
“Fame”
Added on 11-Sep-15 | Last updated 11-Sep-15
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The man who makes it his business to please the multitude is never done.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne, ch. 34 [ed. Marven Lowenthal (1935)]
Added on 19-Jun-15 | Last updated 19-Jun-15
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If forty million people say a foolish thing it does not become a wise one, but the wise man is foolish to give them the lie.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
A Writer’s Notebook (1949)

An entry in 1901. See Anatole France.
Added on 27-Mar-15 | Last updated 27-Mar-15
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Public opinion polls are useful if a politician uses them only to learn approximately what the people are thinking, so that he can talk to them more intelligently. The politician who sways with the polls is not worth his pay. And I believe the people eventually catch up with the man who merely tells them what he thinks they want to hear.

Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) American politician, writer, US President (1967-74)
Six Crises, ch. 3 (1962)
Added on 10-Feb-15 | Last updated 10-Feb-15
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Polls are like perfume — nice to smell, dangerous to swallow.

Shimon Peres (b. 1923) Polish-Israeli politician, statesman
In International Herald Tribune (25-26 Jan 2003)
Added on 3-Feb-15 | Last updated 3-Feb-15
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I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) German astronomer
(Attributed)
Added on 28-Jan-15 | Last updated 28-Jan-15
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Nothing makes the multitude angrier than when someone forces them to change their opinion of him.

Herman Hesse (1877-1962) German-born Swiss poet, novelist, painter
Reflections, #100 [ed. V. Michels (1974)]
Added on 20-Jan-15 | Last updated 20-Jan-15
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Public opinion, because of the tremendous urge to conformity in gregarious animals, is less tolerant than any system of law.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels” (Sep-Oct 1946)
Added on 13-Jan-15 | Last updated 13-Jan-15
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It is said public opinion will not bear it. Really? Public opinion, I am sorry to say, will bear a great deal of nonsense. There is scarce any absurdity so gross, whether in religion, politics, science, or manners, which it will not bear.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1827)

Also in "Success," Society and Solitude (1870).
Added on 6-Jan-15 | Last updated 3-Feb-16
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There is nothing that makes more cowards and feeble men than public opinion.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American clergyman and orator
Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887)
Added on 22-Aug-14 | Last updated 22-Aug-14
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Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Letter to the Young People’s Society, Greenpoint Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn (16 Feb 1901)
Added on 26-Aug-13 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Virtue has never been as respectable as money.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Innocents Abroad, ch. 55 (1869)
Added on 4-Jun-13 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object — robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician’s trick — a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: Our Country, right or wrong! An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor — none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, “Our Country, right or wrong,” and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation?

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Papers of the Adams Family, Part 6 “Two Fragments from a Suppressed Book Called ‘Glances at History’ or ‘Outlines of History'” (1939)
Added on 20-Dec-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country — hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Papers of the Adams Family, Part 6 “Two Fragments from a Suppressed Book Called ‘Glances at History’ or ‘Outlines of History'” (1939)
Added on 14-Dec-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Everybody’s private motto: It’s better to be popular than right.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1902 [ed. Paine (1935)]

Comment on an unlined sheet his papers.
Added on 4-Sep-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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A man with a new idea is a Crank until the idea succeeds.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 32, epigraph (1897)
Added on 1-May-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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What is blasphemy? I will give you a definition; I will give you my thought upon this subject. What is real blasphemy?
To live on the unpaid labor of other men — that is blasphemy.
To enslave your fellow-man, to put chains upon his body — that is blasphemy.
To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips — that is blasphemy.
To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie — that is blasphemy.
To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob — that is blasphemy.
To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many — that is blasphemy.
To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men — that is blasphemy.
To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain — that is blasphemy.
To violate your conscience — that is blasphemy.
The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers.
The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Added on 15-Feb-12 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ch. 26 (1884)
Added on 10-Jun-10 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Consult your conscience, rather than popular opinion.

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 146 [tr. Lyman (1862)]
Added on 8-Apr-09 | Last updated 15-Feb-17
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If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

[Si 50 millions de personnes disent une bêtise, c’est quand même une bêtise.]

Anatole France (1844-1924) French poet, journalist, novelist, Nobel Laureate [pseud. of Jaques-Anatole-François Thibault]
(Attributed)

Sometimes misattributed to Bertrand Russell.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Mar-15
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Laws are sand, customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped, but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
“The Gorky Incident” (1906)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.

E.B. White (1899-1985) American author, critic, humorist [Elwyn Brooks White]
“Talk of the Town,” New Yorker (3 Jul 1943)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 20-Aug-15
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Conscience is, in most men, an anticipation of the opinion of others.

Henry Taylor (1800-1886) English dramatist, poet, bureaucrat, man of letters
The Statesman: An Ironical Treatise on the Art of Succeeding, ch. 9 (1836)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Jul-17
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Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook [ed. Paine (1935)]

Also given as "... time to reform."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

Buddha (c.563-483 BC) Indian mystic, philosopher [b. Siddharta Gautama]
The Kalama Sutta
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 6-Feb-15
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