Motivational Posters: Founding Fathers Edition

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 27, 2010 · 51 comments

in A Man's Life, Motivational Posters

Independence Day, the Fourth of July, is a week away for those of us in the United States. So we thought it would be most appropriate to make a “Founding Fathers” edition of our motivational posters series. We centered in on three of this illustrious group’s most influential men-George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. Not only did they produce great thinking on politics and government, they were also dispensers of truly sage wisdom about character and personal development. We gathered up some of their best and pithiest sayings and hope they inspire you to become a better man.

These men issued enough words of wisdom to fill several dozen posts. What’s your favorite Founding Father quote?

Check out all the motivational posters from AoM: 
Theodore Roosevelt Edition
George S. Patton Edition
Ernest Hemingway Edition
Winston Churchill Edition (Part I)
Winston Churchill Edition (Part II)
Black History Month Edition
Bear Bryant Edition
Founding Fathers Edition
Band of Brothers Edition
Business Posters from the 1920s and 1930s

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Raconteur June 27, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Pretty dang inspiring stuff. Are these the only three Founding Fathers who said anything though? I’d love to learn more about the lesser known ones.

2 Harry June 27, 2010 at 10:01 pm

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Ben Franklin
I had that as a bumper sticker on my first car.

3 Richard Rivers June 27, 2010 at 10:06 pm

“He who knows best knows how little he knows.”

The Apology of Socrates, not Jefferson.

If I had a nickel for all of the misquotes attributed to some American founding father or another, I’d be mighty rich. Generally, if you can’t trace it to a specific document, the quote is spurious. It doesn’t matter how many “famous quotes” websites it’s on, without a real attribution.

Another one Jefferson often gets credit for is “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take from you everything you have.” Except that comes from a speech delivered by Gerald Ford in 1974.

4 Walter June 27, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Awesome posters! I concur with Raconteur (above comment). Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin are great. But what about a sampling of Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Jay, James Madison, Thomas Paine, etc.?

Here’s to part 2! :)

5 Darren June 27, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Richard is incorrect as well, it seems.

According to the Monticello wiki, Jefferson said:

“he who knows most, knows best how little he knows.”…%28Quotation%29

The closest Socrates came to this quote was:

“As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.”
Republic, 354b

“When I left him, I reasoned thus with myself: I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.”
o Apology, 21d

“And how is not this the most reprehensible ignorance, to think that one knows what one does not know? But I, O Athenians! in this, perhaps, differ from most men; and if I should say that I am in any thing wiser than another, it would be in this, that not having a competent knowledge of the things in Hades, I also think that I have not such knowledge.”
o Apology, 29b

The only thing worse than an incorrect quote is an incorrect correction of an incorrect quote!

6 Phil S. June 27, 2010 at 10:46 pm

If I were on Facebook, I would “Like” Darren’s post.

7 Don June 27, 2010 at 11:08 pm

“A little matter will move a party, but it must be something great that moves a nation.” – Thomas Paine, “Rights of Man”

“A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.” – John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 17, 1775

“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.” Patrick Henry, VA Constitutional Convention, 1788

“When People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.” Samuel Adams to Jame Warren, 1775

8 Dantheman June 27, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Does anyone else find it ironic that Jefferson has the quote for resisting temptation? The man very likely had at least a single kid out of wedlock :/

9 Ben June 27, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Where’s the love for John Adams?

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

“If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind whom should we serve? “

10 Brett McKay June 27, 2010 at 11:55 pm

There are indeed many other founding fathers who deserved to be included here, but just narrowing down the quotes from these three men alone into a reasonably sized post was an extremely difficult process. So perhaps we’ll simply have to do a part II in the future.

11 Days And Adventures June 28, 2010 at 12:07 am

I loved this. Thank you so much!

12 Jordan June 28, 2010 at 3:06 am

One of my favorites from John Adams. Less inspirational than it is historical, but very telling about the man’s character and about manly obligation:

“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

John Adams to Abigail Adams, [post 12 May 1780]
Adams Family Correspondence, 3:342

13 Steve June 28, 2010 at 3:48 am

Thanks Brett, there are so many great quotations on these posters. I would love a part II!

14 Chris June 28, 2010 at 5:18 am

@Dantheman… who better to discuss temptation than one who has faced it and failed. If I want to know how to survive a plane crash, I’m not going to the guy who has never survived one.. .I want the word from the horses mouth.

15 Jeremy June 28, 2010 at 7:11 am

I agree with Chris. Too often the very people who are trying to advise us on what not to do have little or no experience with it. I would rather hear, and would take more seriously, advice from someone who has experience with the situation rather than someone who has none. Like the old Bill Cosby line – “The only person I found who could tell me anything about marriage was a priest! He said ‘I can tell you about it.’ I said, ‘Excuse me?’”

16 Dantheman June 28, 2010 at 8:43 am

@Chris and Jeremy

Good points fellas.

17 Jesse June 28, 2010 at 10:55 am

I agree: this is a great post!

“Those who hammer their guns into plowshares will plow for those who do not.” – Thomas Jefferson

18 Shmikey June 28, 2010 at 11:56 am

I must say that the idea that one must experience failure in order to be wise about it is not a very good analysis of wisdom. One who goes about life without any observation or reflection is a fool. One who learns from his mistakes and doesn’t repeat them is smart, but one who learns from others mistakes and doesn’t repeat them is truly wise. To say that a priest does not know what marriage is like, would say that he did not have parents growing up and that he does not observe what the married people he counsels teach him.

19 Nate June 28, 2010 at 11:57 am

I have a hard time with the Jefferson quotes. He was wont to talk a good game, but rarely lived up to his own vaunted ideals. The one that said “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Jefferson did just that when he masterminded the character assassination of his longtime friend John Adams who had won the office of President to which Jefferson aspired.

I would have much rather seen quotes from Madison, Mason, Adams, and some of the other founding fathers who’s inclusion into the American Pantheon is warranted, and who’s wit and wisdom is fit to stand alongside those of Washington and Franklin.

20 Chris Mallow June 28, 2010 at 12:08 pm

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” — Thomas Jefferson

21 Brian June 28, 2010 at 12:28 pm

“Democracy is two wolfs and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well armed lamb contesting the vote”

Ben Franklin.

(However, the actual source of this quote seems to be a matter of disagreement. But considering his wit and ideals, I would still like to think he said it…)

22 men's t-shirts June 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm

This is my sort of post! So much can be learnt from quotes like these. Being from across the pond, I’m a Churchill man. Hopefully you’ll look to include some of his offerings in later posts.

“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” – Winston Churchill

23 Jon B June 28, 2010 at 1:12 pm
24 Christopher Canova June 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I love this set of Motivationals. I’m not big on creating motivational posters and there are entire websites devoted to this, but many of these apply to my life and beliefs. I hope this enriches more men’s lives like it has mine.

25 Valerio June 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Brett, these motivational posters are really great. I was wondering if you could do one-per-day to receive through email; it would be great to read it in the morning and then live the day thinking about it. ;) Thanks!

26 John Wright June 28, 2010 at 4:12 pm

My favorite Jefferson quote is, “I cannot live without books.” It paints him as the quiet intellectual genius that he was. I had the pleasure of interviewing at the University of Virginia this past winter as well as touring Monticello. His commitment to learning and liberty was astounding. About ten years ago, I had a similar pleasure of touring Mount Vernon. Washington’s patriotism had a similar vigor and strength. As an intellectual, I tie myself to Franklin and Jefferson more than Washington, but no one can deny his passion for his country.

27 Cody June 28, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Is there anyway that I can purchase these posters?

28 Eric Granata June 28, 2010 at 10:03 pm

I’m with Cody. I would love to have one or two of these hanging on my wall.

29 Paul June 29, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Thos. Jefferson as a poster boy for self-reliance? Seems to me that a slave-holder who lived a rich life deeply in debt ought not to be held as a model for self-reliance; he lived on other people’s labor, other people’s money.

30 Tarcas June 29, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Cody and Eric:
Might not be quite what you’re after, but right-click on the image of your choice, choose “View Image” and after it loads, press Ctrl-P. Trim to size.
I have a couple of the Churchill ones on my cubicle wall: Perseverance and Growth.

31 Eric Napier June 29, 2010 at 4:11 pm

“Be civil to all; sociable to many; familiar with few; friend to one; enemy to none.” -Benjamin Franklin

32 Steve June 29, 2010 at 11:41 pm

@ Paul

Amen, beat me to it.

A smart man to be sure, a genius in many ways. But he also was able to live his life thanks to stealing from the hard work of others.

33 D. Duplessis June 30, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Fantastic posters! I feel very motivated now.

34 Zach June 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike. — Alexander Hamilton

There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty, that makes human nature rise above itself, in acts of bravery and heroism. — Alexander Hamilton

To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well – John Marshall

35 Ian MacManus June 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm

John Adams: “Let justice be done though the heavens should fall.”

36 Mark June 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm

@ Nate…..

I was thinking the same thing about Jefferson – same quote and same circumstances.

37 Ethan June 30, 2010 at 11:10 pm

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.” – Ben Franklin

In business we use several adaptations of this quote today. One of Warren Buffett’s famous quotes is: “The harder you work the luckier you are.” At least that is where I heard it from.

Second favorite quote: “Many people die at twenty five and aren’t buried until they are seventy five.” – Ben Franklin. Yet another quote that is worth reflecting on.

38 Mike L. July 5, 2010 at 9:25 am

“To the distinguished character of patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian” – George Washington, May 2, 1778, at Valley Forge

Lest all of the supposed “deists” rule the list, I have added just one to remind the men that it is indeed manly to remember you are a spiritual being of the Creator.

39 David July 5, 2010 at 12:14 pm

How about this dig at a rapscallion by GW:

he “has a celebrity in a certain way, for his calumnies are to be exceeded only by his impudence, and both stand unrivaled.”

40 detroitjoe July 7, 2010 at 8:24 am

fact is, misattributed quotes or not, these are great pieces of manly advice, and if these manly men didn’t say them then they should have…. so stop whining

41 Robert July 8, 2010 at 5:22 pm

One of my favorites I learned of a few years ago and a great reminder that these were guys just like us in many ways. Have used it on the golf course myself.

“Shift your fat ass Harry, but slowly or you’ll swamp the damned boat.”

George Washington to Henry Knox as he boarded the boat to cross the Delaware and attack the Hessians in Trenton.

42 Ken July 14, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Great stuff, Brett. This site is just fantastic. Keep up the great work!

43 wcc July 16, 2010 at 11:14 pm

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” – Ben Franklin

44 Brad July 18, 2010 at 6:55 am

Were these ordinary men who stepped up during extraordinary times or were they exceptional men who came together at the right place during just the right time in history?

45 paul July 21, 2010 at 1:29 pm

I just discovered this amazing site! Every American guy needs to read this site, lest they become lost in today’s increasingly gender-neutral and homogeneous society.

Splendid stuff you have here!

46 Mike August 3, 2010 at 4:35 am

“Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear”

- Thomas Jefferson

47 Will Russell January 9, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Nate, Mark & Steve:

Perhaps you should read Jefferson’s original Declaration of Independence where he condemns the slave trade and institution. I am not defending slavery, however, it is not fair to sell short any of these men because they happened to own slaves(yes Washington did too, as did many of the Founding fathers and even Ulysses Grant 60 years later than Jefferson), as it was the only way at the time to produce enough food for people to eat.

48 Tim January 20, 2013 at 1:02 pm

“We must all hang together now, or assuredly we shall hang separately”

- Ben Franklin on American independence.

49 Cyd June 29, 2013 at 9:58 am

Where can I purchase these motivational founding fathers posters?

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