Favorite Quote?


March 25, 2014
by Editors Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

What is your favorite quote by a Revolutionary?


“I see one head turning into thirteen.” Washington said this several times in the closing years of the war. After independence, it was THE crucial issue.

Thomas Fleming


“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” —James Madison, “The Federalist, No. 51”

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” —John Adams, closing argument, trial of the soldiers for the Boston Massacre

J. L. Bell


“A newspaper in South Carolina in the present state of their affairs would be equal to at least two regiments,” wrote Benjamin Rush to Nathanael Greene, September 4, 1781.

“The ancient Roman and Greek orators could only speak to the number of citizens capable of being assembled within the reach of their voice. Their writings had little effect, because the bulk of the people could not read. Now by the press we can speak to nations… the facility, with which the same truths may be repeatedly enforced by placing them daily in different lights in newspapers, which are everywhere read, gives a great chance of establishing them. And we now find, that it is not only right to strike while the iron is hot, but that it may be very practicable to heat it by continually striking,” wrote Benjamin Franklin to Richard Price, June 13, 1782.

Todd Andrlik


On November 15, 1775 ­– before the publication of Common Sense, and long before Congress would declare independence – Mercy Otis Warren told John Adams that the Congress “should no longer piddle at the threshold. It is time to leap into the theatre, to unlock the bars, and open every gate that impedes the rise and growth of the American republic, and then let the giddy potentate send forth his puerile proclamations to France, to Spain and all the commercial world who may be united in building up an Empire which he can’t prevent.” She then composed some verse,  “extempore”:

At leisure then may G[eor]ge his reign review,
And bid to empire and to crown adieu.
For lordly mandates and despotic kings
Are obsolete like other quondam things.

Ray Raphael


Having recently returned from Quebec where he assisted in the defeat of the Continental Army’s early landings at Fort St. John’s, Sir William Johnson’s mixed-blood son, William Johnson Jr., aggressively confronted Colonel Jacob Klock, commander of the 2nd Tryon County Militia regiment and a Palatine District committee member. William was “accoutered with two pistols, a gun and a Broadsword on his side.” He declared – “I am a King’s Man, who dare say anything aginst it…” William was known variously as Tagawirunta, William Johnson Jr., or William of Canajoharie. The quote is found in Klock’s report to the County Committee on 07Nov75. William’s expostulations continued , “I have Killed so many Yankies at Fort St. John’s with this Sword of my Father, they are no Soldiers at all. I kill’d and scalp’d, and kick-d their arses, etc… etc…” Penrose, Maryly B., ed., Mohawk Valley in the Revolution, Committee of Safety Papers & Genealogical Compendium (Franklin Park, NJ: Liberty Bell Associates, 1978).

Gavin K. Watt


From Thomas Paine:  “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny like hell is not easily conquered yet we have this consolation with us, the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

Steven Paul Mark


MG William Phillips:  “Where a goat can go, a man can go. And where a man can go, he can drag a gun.” referring to taking high ground prior to the recapture of Ft. Ticonderoga.

Steven M. Baule


“The Troops I had the Honor to command have been so fortunate as to obtain a compleat Victory over a Detachment from the British Army commanded by Lt. Colonel Tarlton.  The Action happened on the 17th Instant about Sunrise at the Cowpens.  It perhaps would be well to remark, for the Honour of the American Arms, that altho’ the progress of this Corps was marked with Burnings and Devastations & altho’ they have waged the most cruel Warfare, not a man was killed, wounded or even insulted after he surrendered.  Had not Britons during this contest received so many Lessons of Humanity, I should flatter myself that this might teach them a little, but I fear they are incorrigible.”  -Daniel Morgan to Nathaniel Greene, 19 January 1781

Wayne Lynch


“We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again. The whole country is one continuous scene of blood and slaughter.”—Nathanael Greene in letter to Chevalier de la Luzerne, April 28, 1781

Don Glickstein


My favorite snarky quote is from John Adams (of course) suspecting Britain’s attempts to get the European monarchies and aristocracy to mobilize against the American colonies’ cause of liberty: “By Intelligence hourly arriving from abroad We are more and more confirmed, that a Kind of Confederation will be formed among the Crowned Skulls, and numbskulls of Europe, against Human Nature.” -From John Adams to John Trumbull, 13 February 1776

My favorite awesome quote is from George Washington at war’s end, and guessing that the hardships of the Continental Army will never be remembered in history: “… for it will not be believed that such a force as Great Britain has employed for eight years in this Country could be baffled… by numbers infinitely less, composed of men oftentimes half starved, always in Rags, without pay, and experiencing, at times, every species of distress which human nature is capable of undergoing.” -From George Washington to Nathanael Greene, 8 July 1783From George Washington to Nathanael Greene, 8 July 1783

John L. Smith, Jr.


Before the Battle of Bennington Vermont, Brigadier General John Stark reportedly said: “There are your enemies, the Red Coats and Tories.  They are ours or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow”

Later at age 81, Stark wrote to veterans returning to Bennington to celebrate the battle in a letter, which ended: “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils

Live free or die is now the New Hampshire state motto memorialized on residents auto license plates.

Gene Procknow


Aside from the egalitarian and natural rights portions of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, I have two favorite quotations from revolutionaries. One is that of Captain Levi Preston of Danvers, Massachusetts. When asked why he had soldiered on the first day of the war, he responded: “[W]hat we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”  My second favorite is Washington’s remark on learning of Lexington and Concord:  a “Brother’s Sword has been sheathed in a Brother’s breast.”

John Ferling


Scowling, determined John Stark at Bennington, “We’ll beat them before night or Molly Stark’s a widow.”

Nathaneal Greene describing his own troops but could be describing American fortunes throughout the war: “We fight, get beaten, rise, and fight again.”

Jeff Dacus


Greene once complained of injury received when he  was thrown by “a very vitious Horse with tory principles.”

Curtis F. Morgan, Jr.


“I have not yet begun to fight” John Paul Jones. Did he actually say that or not? Either way it is a great quote.

Jimmy Dick


There are so many. Here’s one of my favorites, from King George III to Lord North (in Nov, 1774):

“I am not sorry that the line of conduct seems now chalked out… the New England Governments are in a state of rebellion, blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent.” Blows indeed did decide. But the quote also encapsulates the ignorance of the British elite, for in 1774, the Americans did not want independence, they just wanted good and fair government, represented by Americans. Had George III acted differently, America might have ended up a Commonwealth country.

Derek W. Beck


George Washington to Nathanael Greene, 6 Feb. 1783: “If Historiographers should be hardy enough to fill the page of History with the advantages that have been gained with unequal numbers (on the part of America) in the course of this contest, & attempt to relate the distressing circumstances under which they have been obtained, it is more than probable that Posterity will bestow on their labors the epithet & marks of fiction for it will not be believed that such a force as Great Britain has employed for eight years in this Country could be baffled in their plan of Subjugating it by numbers infinitely less—composed of Men often times half starved—always in Rags—without pay—& experiencing, at times, every Species of distress which human nature is capable of undergoing.”

-Benjamin L. Huggins


This one isn’t well known, nor is it a long statement, but I love General Sir Henry Clinton’s sarcastic references to Lord Cornwallis as “the noble earl.” Clinton often resorted to that phrase when Cornwallis did something that Clinton didn’t like. The effect is best when the phrase appears in context, and it gives great insight into the anger arising from the feud between the two.

Jim Piecuch


“…the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph” – Thomas Paine in The American Crisis

Daniel Tortora


What about you? What’s your favorite quote by a Revolutionary?


  • This quote by John Adams makes me smile every time I read it because it is so true:
    “My country has contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

  • “The difficulties and distresses to which we have been exposed during the war must now be forgotten. We must endeavor to let our ways be the way of pleasantness and all our paths peace.”

    Martha Washington to Hannah Stockton Boudinot. January 15, 1784.

  • “These facts have given the last stab to agonizing affection, and manly spirit bids us to renounce for ever these unfeeling brethren. We must endeavor to forget our former love for them, and to hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. We might have been a free & great people together; but a communication of grandeur & of freedom it seems is below their dignity. be it so, since they will have it: the road to glory & happiness is open to us too; we will climb it in a separate state, and acquiesce in the necessity which pronounces our everlasting Adieu!”

    -Thomas Jefferson to “our British brethren” in the Declaration of Independence

  • From John Adams, the 18th century poster child for Prozac:

    “In general, our generals were outgeneralled”

  • Gen. Nathanael Greene to Gen. Francis Marion in April 1781, “To fight the enemy bravely with a prospect of victory is nothing; but to fight with intrepidity under the constant impression of defeat, and inspire irregular troops to do it, is a talent peculiar to yourself.”

  • During the Battle of Brooklyn/Long Island, Gen. Washington observed a small force of 500 or-so Americans at the Gowanus Creek repel British troops and then fall back over and over at a small house there now known simply as “The Old Stone House”, so that the remainder of the army could escape to Brooklyn Heights, and reportedly said: “Good God! What brave fellows I must this day lose.”

    For Washington, this was a mighty exclamation.

  • In response to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s apology to recently-arrived George Washington on the dismal state of the men being placed at his service, he graciously wrote back (despite his well known disdain for militia troops):

    “Whatever deficiencies there may be, will, I doubt not, soon be made up by the activity and zeal of the officers, and the docility and obedience of the men. These qualities, united with their native bravery and spirit, will afford a happy presage of success.”

  • My favorite snarky John Adams quote is the one about the Battle of Harlem Heights:

    “Wherever the men of war have approached, our militia have most manfully turned their backs and run away, officers and men, like sturdy fellows.”

    You can just taste the sarcasm; like thick syrup. I can’t help but read it in Paul Giamatti’s voice.

    1. Agreed, but by 1823 Adams had changed his tune:

      “Whenever the militia comes to an end, or is despised or neglected, I shall consider this union dissolved, and the liberties of North America lost forever.”

      John Adams to William H. Sumner, An Inquiry into the Importance of the Militia to a Free Commonwealth; In a letter from William H. Sumner, Adjutant General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to John Adams, Late President of the United States; with His Answer (Boston: Cummings and Hilliard, 1823), 70.

      1. I don’t think he changed his tune; he was just talking about a different type of militia. Nevertheless, John Adams was one witty fellow. Obnoxious, perhaps, but I would have loved to drink with him.

        1. Yes, it was a different time and a different militia in a post-1812 world, but it is interesting to see this Founder (wonderful picture of him on pg. 222 of Vol. 1!) go from one extreme to the other. One must consider the passing of the torch to the next generation that he was witnessing, with eyes (wistfully?) looking backwards in time while being forced to confront the future.

  • Robert Livingston to his father in law John Stevens on his election as a delegate to the Continental Congress, 23 April 1775

    “Some cautious persons w[ill] advise me to de cline but I am resolved to stand or fall with my country.”

  • John Jay’s quote indicated his approach to impartial justice even in the often emotionally charged field of counterintelligence. Had his attitude and conduct of counterintelligence investigations been institutionalize during the revolutionary war and afterward, our national security would have been better served.

    ” Your judgment, and consequently, your Conscience differed from mine on a very important Question. But though as an independent American, I consider all who were not for us, and You among the Rest, as against us, yet be assured that John Jay did not cease to be a friend of Peter Van Schaack.”

  • I particularly enjoy the voices of the common person. I also feel context can add considerably to the impact of a statement. With that in mind, I offer up a quote from one Acquilla Cleaveland who wrote a letter to his wife between 8 and 10 June 1777 while stationed at Mount Independence opposite Fort Ticonderoga. He closed it with these lines (“god” is underlined in the original):

    “My Dear Wife after my regard to you, I don’t know when I shall see you but would have you do as well as you can. Remember that god is as able to support you now as ever if you trust in him. I shall come home as soon as I can get a chance and so I remain your loving husband till Death.”

    He was killed a week later in an Indian ambush–possibly before his wife even received the letter. He lies in an unmarked grave somewhere halfway between Ticonderoga and Crown Point. His wife, Mercy, kept the letter offering it as proof of her husband’s service in her pension application.

    1. Mike,

      I too am greatly interested in the what it is the common people had to say. Here is a poignant observation of conditions at Ft. Ti in December 1776 and I wonder if your Acqueilla Cleaveland might have witnessed them; if so, his death was certainly much quicker than this:

      For all this Army at this place, which did not consist of twelve or thirteen thousand men, sick and well, no more than nine hundred pair of shoes have been sent. One third at least of the poor wretches is now barefoot, and in this condition obliged to do duty. This is shocking to humanity. It cannot be viewed in any milder light than black murder. The poor creatures is now (what’s left alive) laying on the cold ground, in poor thin tents, and some none at all, and many down with pleurisy. No barracks, no hospitals to go in. The barracks is at Saratoga. If you was here, your heart would melt. I paid a visit to the sick yesterday in a small house called a hospital. The first object presented [to] my eyes, one man laying dead at the door; the[n] inside two more laying dead, two living lying between them; the living with the dead had so laid for four-and-twenty hours. I went no further; this was too much to see and to[o] much to feel, for a heart with the least tincture of humanity.

      Charles Knowles Bolton, A Private Soldier Under Washington (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902), 51-52.

  • Not from a Revolutionary, but I think worth considering.

    Poor Thomas Gage. He walked right into it and I think any reasonable person might wonder how they would have reacted to his conundrum had they been in his shoes. The twisting of what it is he was trying to do as expressed through the fantastic, unrealistic beliefs in hidden conspiracies advanced by paranoid Boston elites certainly weighed heavily on him.

    So, I find it interesting to see his exchanges with those in Worcester County during this time as he no doubt welcomed their words indicating the presence of some degree of sanity among them:

    June 21, 1774: “Your disavowal of the malevolent labors of a desperate faction, who, by raising groundless fears and jealousies, and using every sort of artifice and fraud, endeavor to delude and intimidate the people, and to create in them an aversion and enmity towards their brethren in Great Britain is a proof that you hold sentiments the most friendly to your country; and,

    Oct. 14, 1774: “I have repeatedly given the strongest assurances, that I intended nothing hostile against the town or country, and therefore desire you to ease the minds of the people against any reports that may have been industriously spread amongst them to the contrary; my wish is to preserve peace and tranquility.”

    Poor Thomas Gage.

    The Journals of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775 (Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1838), 637; 646.

  • 1) John Adams to Abigail: “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”

    2) George Washington, password for the Battle of Trenton: “Victory or death.”

  • I have two quotes:
    Nathanael Greene, “We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again”.
    Daniel Morgan, “Fought everywhere, was beaten nowhere”, Major General Daniel Morgan Response Letter to Congress, c. 1798.

  • In Janauary 1781 Capt. William Clay Snipes, a member of Gen. Francis Marion’s South Carolina militia brigade, went over Marion’s head and asked Gen. Nathanael Greene to allow him to raise an independent company–he also lobbied Gov. John Rutledge and militia Gen. Thomas Sumter. Despite their approval, Marion opposed the command. When he learned of Marion’s disparaging comments, Snipes wrote Marion on April 30:

    ” I should think that if you were so good a friend to the Cause, as you pretend you would incourage the matter that was on hand, but must really tell you General that the commission you have received is really puft you up so much that you have Intirely forgot the Cause, which I am sorry for. If I have Offended you I am to be found, & Let the matter be at an End.”

    Nice talk from a subordinate. Besides the accusatory “really puft you up,” is this also a veiled challenge to a duel–Snipes killed the brother of a Marion friend in 1785?

  • “the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor
    a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the
    grace of God.” (Thomas Jefferson to Roger Weightman, June 24, 1826)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *