For business leaders in the United States, there’s something comforting about reflecting on the thoughts of the leaders of our past – the women and men who once stood where we now stand.
Knowing they often faced extraordinary challenges with fewer resources than we have available today helps to reorient our modern perspectives.
Maybe it’s sharing in the sense of hope and opportunity in their words. Maybe it’s knowing the struggle to reconcile grand ideas with sometimes-tough realities. Maybe it’s grasping the weight of their tireless commitment to a better future.
When we take the time to recall some of the wisdom of our nation’s past leaders, we can find ourselves feeling less alone in our striving for excellence and more prepared to pursue our goals for another day.
Here are 21 American history leadership quotes to read, remember and reflect on when you need time-honored inspiration.
“I cannot do everything, but I can do something. I must not fail to do the something that I can do.”
Helen Keller, educator and advocate for the blind and deaf who lived from 1880 to 1968. She also co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”
Amelia Earhart, first woman to fly a plane across the Atlantic ocean who lived from 1897 to 1939 when she disappeared while flying over the Pacific ocean.
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“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
Babe Ruth, record-setting baseball player who lived from 1895 to 1948
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“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Henry Ford, American automobile manufacturer known for creating the Model T in 1908 and pioneering assembly line manufacturing
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“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”
“Don’t sit down and wait for opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”
Madam C.J. Walker, the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire who lived from 1867 to 1919
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On character and influence
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803 to 1882, poet, philosopher and essayist
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“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th U.S. president who lived from 1890 to 1969
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“Never do things others can do and will do if there are things others cannot do or will not do.”
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“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
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“A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong.”
Tecumseh, Shawnee chief who lived from 1768 to 1813
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“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”
Alexander Graham Bell, scientist and inventor known for inventing the first working telephone in 1876
“Big jobs usually go to the men who prove their ability to outgrow small ones.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Thomas A. Edison, 1847 to 1931, inventor known for creating the first marketable light bulb who also held more than 1,000 patents
“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”
Henry David Thoreau, 1817 to 1862, essayist and poet remembered for his philosophical and naturalist writings
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“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”
Henry David Thoreau
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“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Harriet Tubman, 1820 to 1913, abolitionist who escaped slavery and helped hundreds more find freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad
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“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Frederick Douglass, 1818 to 1895, abolitionist leader, author and champion of women’s rights
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“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe, author and social activist who lived from 1811-1896
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Want to channel your motivation from these American history leadership quotes into some practical techniques you can use today? Download our free magazine now: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.