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It does not undo harm to acknowledge that we have done it; but it undoes us not to acknowledge it.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 4 (1963)
Added on 5-Jun-24 | Last updated 5-Jun-24
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He that has a secret should not only hide it, but hide that he has it to hide.

Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish essayist and historian
The French Revolution: A History, Part 2, Book 1, ch. 7 (2.1.7) (1837)

Carlyle puts this in quotes, but he is again apparently quoting himself. He later used the phrase in his history of Friedrich II of Prussia (Frederick the Great).
Added on 25-Apr-24 | Last updated 26-Apr-24
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Children live in occupied territory. The brave and the foolhardy openly rebel against authority, whether harsh or benign. But most tread warily, outwardly accommodating themselves to alien mores and edicts while living in secret their iconoclastic and subversive lives.

P. D. James (1920-2014) British mystery writer [Phyllis Dorothy James White]
Time To Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography, “Diary 1997” (1999)
Added on 13-Mar-24 | Last updated 13-Mar-24
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Children are unreliable, foreigners to discretion.

Lucy Malleson
Anthony Gilbert (1899-1973) English writer (pseud. of Lucy Beatrice Malleson)
Is She Dead Too? (1950)
Added on 3-Jan-24 | Last updated 3-Jan-24
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One knows not whether nature doth not impose some secrecy upon him who has been privy to certain things. At least, it is to be doubted whether it be good to blazon such. If some books are deemed most baneful and their sale forbid, how, then, with deadlier facts, not dreams of doting men? Those whom books will hurt will not be proof against events. Events, not books, should be forbid.

Herman Melville (1819-1891) American writer
The Encantadas, Sketch 8 (1854)
Added on 21-Jun-23 | Last updated 21-Jun-23
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Democracies have no business running secret prisons. That’s what our enemies do. If we are in a battle for the hearts and minds of people around the world, as the administration says we are, I won’t feel very secure if the people around the world believe we are no different than our enemies. […] As Americans, we do believe our system offers a better way. But the only way to convince others of that is if we live by our values. Real security begins with remembering who we are. We gain nothing by adopting the methods of our enemies.

Bob Schieffer
Bob Schieffer (b. 1937) American broadcast journalist
“Free Speech,” CBS Evening News (14 Sep 2006)
Added on 23-Aug-22 | Last updated 23-Aug-22
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Every word which goes from me, whether verbally or in writing, becomes the subject of so much malignant distortion, & perverted construction, that I am obliged to caution my friends against admitting the possibility of my letters getting into the public papers, or a copy of them to be taken under any degree of confidence.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Edward Dowse (19 Apr 1803)
Added on 18-Apr-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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For virtue, not secrecy, is sought by good men.

[Honesta enim bonis viris, non occulta quaeruntur.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis [On Duties; On Moral Duty; The Offices], Book 3, ch. 9 (3.9) / sec. 38 (44 BC) [tr. Edmonds (1865)]

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

For good men desire to be virtuous and honest, and not to be secret, that so they may sin without danger.
[tr. Cockman (1699)]

What is honorable, and not what is concealed, is the object of pursuit with wise men.
[tr. McCartney (1798)]

For it is right things, not hidden things, that are sought by good men.
[tr. Peabody (1883)]

The good man seeks to do what is right, not to hide what he does.
[tr. Gardiner (1899)]

For good men aim to secure not secrecy but the right.
[tr. Miller (1913)]

Good men seek right conduct, not conduct that has to remain concealed.
[tr. Edinger (1974)]

Honorable things, not secretive things, are sought by good men.

Added on 2-Nov-20 | Last updated 8-Sep-22
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Real power begins where secrecy begins.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 12 “Totalitarianism in Power,” sec. 1 (1951)
Added on 16-Jun-20 | Last updated 5-Jul-22
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Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.


H. Jackson "Jack" Brown, Jr. (b. 1940) American writer
P.S. I Love You (1990)

Brown attributed this to a letter his mother wrote him.
Added on 20-Sep-16 | Last updated 20-Sep-16
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CATO: Content thyself to be obscurely good.
When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,
The post of honour is a private station.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) English essayist, poet, statesman
Cato, Act 4, sc. 4, l. 139ff (1713)
Added on 23-Aug-16 | Last updated 25-Mar-24
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A man should fear when he enjoys only what good he does publicly. Is it not the publicity, rather than the charity, that he loves?

Beecher - what good he does publicly - wist_info quote

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American clergyman and orator
In Henry Ward Beecher and Edna Dean Proctor, Life Thoughts: Gathered From the Extemporaneous Discourses of Henry Ward Beecher (1858)

See Matthew.
Added on 8-Jul-16 | Last updated 8-Jul-16
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Were there no hearers, there would be no backbiters.

George Herbert (1593-1633) Welsh priest, orator, poet.
Jacula Prudentum, or Outlandish Proverbs, Sentences, &c. (compiler), # 69 (1640 ed.)
Added on 13-Nov-15 | Last updated 8-Mar-24
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The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, American Newspaper Publishers Association (27 Apr 1961)
Added on 18-Aug-14 | Last updated 18-Aug-14
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You need not tell all the truth, unless to those who have a right to know it all. But let all you tell be truth.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
Added on 12-Jun-14 | Last updated 12-Jun-14
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The word “security” is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment. The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713, 719 (1971) [concurring]
Added on 10-Oct-12 | Last updated 5-Jan-23
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Don’t write anything you can phone. Don’t phone anything you can talk. Don’t talk anything you can whisper. Don’t whisper anything you can smile. Don’t smile anything you can nod. Don’t nod anything you can wink.

Earl Kemp Long
Earl Kemp Long (1895-1960) American politician, orator.

Advice on political discretion. Widely attributed, but with no primary sourcing or particular context I can find. Quoted in his biography, Michael L. Kurtz, Earl K. Long: The Saga of Uncle Earl and Louisiana Politics, ch. 7 (1990).
Added on 14-Oct-08 | Last updated 29-Mar-24
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Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
Letter (23 Jan 1861)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Feb-20
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