in: Character, Knowledge of Men

• Last updated: June 16, 2021

The Best Winston Churchill Quotes

It’s been posited that, outside Jesus and Shakespeare, no one has been quoted more often than Winston Churchill.

The reason for the enduring cultural ubiquity of Churchillisms is two-fold.

First, the canon from which they can be distilled is simply huge. Over his lifetime, Churchill penned forty-four books and many thousands of articles, speeches, memos, and letters, which, in total, amount to about 20 million words. 

But it was, of course, not simply the quantity of Churchill’s writing that has made him so frequently cited today, but its incomparable quality. From an early age, Churchill set out to become a master of the English language, and he continued to refine his craft his entire life through. Believing that “There is no more important element in the technique of rhetoric than the continual employment of the best possible word,” he would spend hours on this selection process. He labored over the many drafts of his works, making sure his phrases had just the right punch, just the right cadence and rhythm. He spent an equal amount of effort eliminating any words which weren’t necessary, which lent his writing the pithy, concise style which ultimately produced so many memorable epigrams.

Beyond the mechanics of language, it was the intangible qualities Churchill infused it with that created such an enduring effect. As a soldier, gardener, pilot, stonemason, traveler, hunter, painter, husband, and father, Churchill had a far more varied range of experiences to draw from than the average politician. As a sentimental Romantic, he was able to imbue his words with genuine emotion, conviction, and sincerity. As a man with a thoroughgoing sense of humor, he knew how to leaven the serious with the witty. And as a thick-skinned individualist, he was unafraid to ruffle feathers and be strikingly direct. 

For these reasons, Churchill’s words continue to stir us today. Whether on the topics of war and politics, the necessity of action, the importance of history, or the theme which overarched his entire life and career — resilience — his quotes spur reflection, elicit a chuckle, and strengthen the backbone. While it’s impossible to include all his worthy gems, below you’ll find a collection of many of his very best to read, ponder, and enjoy. As Churchill, who himself intently studied the quotations of others, said: “quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts.”

Note: Not only is Churchill one of the most quoted figures in history, he is also one of the most misquoted. Many of people’s favorite supposed Churchillisms were not in fact said by him at all. Others were originally said by Churchill, but have been passed along in distorted form. We have done our best to vet all the quotes below as being authentically sourced and accurately worded.

“We are all worms, but I do believe I am a glow-worm.”

“I never worry about action, but only about inaction.”

“Study history, study history—in history lie all the secrets of statecraft.”

“If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”

“Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it…{and this tired part} can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.”

“We seem to be very near the bleak choice between War and Shame. My feeling is that we shall choose Shame, and then have War thrown in a little later on even more adverse terms than at present.”

“Ambition, not so much for vulgar ends, but for fame, glints in every mind.”

“It is the people who control the Government—not the Government the people.”

“Honors should go where death and danger go.”

“Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”

“the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger.”

“Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.”

“Let it not be thought that the age of chivalry belongs to the past.”

“Twenty to twenty-five! These are the years! Don’t be content with things as they are.”

“No one is compelled to serve great causes unless he feels fit for it, but nothing is more certain than you cannot take the lead in great causes as a half-timer.”

“This is the company I should like to find in heaven. Stained perhaps, but positive. Not those flaccid sea anemones of virtue who can hardly wiggle an antenna in the turgid waters of negativity.”

“Books, in all their variety, offer the human intellect the means by which civilization may be carried triumphantly forward.”

“The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions.”

“youth is for freedom and reform, maturity for judicious compromise, and old age for stability and repose.”

“{An appeaser} hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last.”

“Do not let spacious plans for a new world divert your energies from saving what is left of the old.”

“We must beware of trying to build a society in which no one counts for anything except a politician or an official, or a society where enterprise gains no reward and thrift no privileges.”

“The only way a man can remain consistent amid changing circumstances is to change with them while preserving the same dominating purpose.”

“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities...because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”

“In the course of my life I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.”

“Our difficulties and dangers will not be removed by closing our eyes to them.”

“the world does not end with the life of any man.”

“When the notes of life ring false, men should correct them by referring to the tuning fork of death.”

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

“For defeat there is only one answer...victory.”

“The whole history of the world is summed up in the fact that when nations are strong, they are not always just, and when they wish to be just, they are often no longer strong.”

“Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

“It is a crime to despair. We must learn to draw from misfortune the means of future strength.”

“when you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.”

“The most important thing about education is appetite.”

“Of course, I am an egotist. Where do you get if you aren’t?”

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

“The nose of the bulldog has been slanted backwards so that he can breathe without letting go.”

“I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.”

“The Socialist dream is no longer Utopia but Queuetopia.”

“Cheap popularity can prove itself very dearly bought.”

“To act by half-measures, with a lack of conviction miscalled ‘caution,’ is to run the greatest risks and lose the prize.”

“Expert knowledge, however indispensable, is no substitute for a generous and comprehending outlook upon the human story with all its sadness and with all its unquenchable hope.”

“When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.”

“I hope that I shall never see the day when the Force of Right is deprived of the Right of Force.”

“The idea that nothing is true except what we comprehend is silly, and that ideas which our minds cannot reconcile are mutually destructive, sillier still.”

“There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human society, are created, strengthened, and maintained.”

“Defeat is one thing; disgrace is another.”

“A nation without a conscience is a nation without a soul. A nation without a soul is a nation that cannot live.”

“Dangers which are warded off and difficulties which are overcome before they reach a crisis are utterly unrecognized. Eaten bread is soon forgotten.”

“Criticism in the body politic is like pain in the human body. It is not pleasant but where would the body be without it?”

“When danger is far off we may think of our weakness; when it is near we must not forget our strength.”

“we must beware of a tyranny of opinion which tries to make only one side of a question the one which may be heard. Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.”

“It is foolish to waste lamentations upon the closing phase of human life. Noble spirits yield themselves willingly to the successively falling shades which carry them to a better world or to oblivion.”

“I have no fear of the future. Let us go forward into its mysteries, let us tear aside the veils which hide it from our eyes, and let us move onward with confidence and courage.”

“short words are best, and old words, when short, are the best of all.”

“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.”

“A good knowledge of history is a quiver full of arrows in debates.”

“Moral force is, unhappily, no substitute for armed force, but it is a very great reinforcement.”

“In a broad view, large principles, a good heart, high aims, a firm faith we may find some charts and a compass for our voyage.”

“The more serious physical wounds are often surprisingly endurable at the moment they are received. There is an interval of uncertain length before sensation is renewed. The shock numbs but does not paralyze; the wound bleeds but does not smart. So it is with the great reverses of life.”

“The glory of light cannot exist without its shadows.”

“Nature will not be admired by proxy.”

“We must beware of needless innovation, especially when guided by logic.”

“It is a very fine thing to refuse an invitation, but it is a good thing to wait till you get it first.”

“We live in a world of 'ifs.'”

“There is a precipice on either side of you—a precipice of caution and a precipice of over-daring.”

“There are thoughtless, dilettanti or purblind worldlings who sometimes ask us, ‘What is it that Britain and France are fighting for?’ To this I answer: ‘If we left off fighting, you would soon find out.’”

“Nothing makes a man more reverent than a library.”

“You must look at facts, because they look at you.”

“What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?”

“The journey {of life} has been enjoyable and well worth the taking—once.”
possibly Churchill's last recorded statement

“{Socialism is} government of the duds, by the duds, and for the duds.”

“To change your mind is one thing; to turn on those who have followed your previous advice another.”

“In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity; in peace, good will.”

“Projects undreamed-of by past generations will absorb our immediate descendants...comforts, activities, amenities, pleasures will crowd upon them, but their hearts will ache, their lives will be barren, if they have not a vision above material things.”

“How strange it is that the past is so little understood and so quickly forgotten. We live in the most thoughtless of ages. Every day headlines and short views.”

“You must have four children. One for Mother, one for Father, one for Accidents, one for Increase.”

“I like things to happen, and if they don’t happen I like to make them happen.”

“They are a class of Rt. Hon. {Right Honorable} gentlemen—all good men, all honest men—who are ready to make great sacrifices for their opinions, but they have no opinions. They are ready to die for the truth, if they only knew what the truth was.”

“War is horrible, but slavery is worse.”

“one should be just before one is generous.”

“We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.”

“To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real.”

“Virtuous motives, trammeled by inertia and timidity, are no match for armed and resolute wickedness.”

“Nothing is more dangerous…than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup Poll, always feeling one’s pulse and taking one’s temperature.”

“Criticism is easy; achievement is more difficult.”

“It is very much easier and quicker to cut down trees than to grow them.”

“Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl. No superior alternative has yet been found!”

“I like a man who grins when he fights.”

“I believe we have been all these months in the position of the Spanish prisoner who languished for twenty years in a dungeon until one morning the idea struck him to push the door, which had been open all the time.”

“logic, like science, must be the servant and not the master of man.”

“Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king.”

“It was the nation and race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion’s heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”

“‘All men are created equal’ says the American Declaration of Independence. ‘All men shall be kept equal’ say the British Socialist Party.”

“It is not open to the cool set himself up as an impartial judge of events which would never have occurred had he outstretched a helping hand in time.”

“To try to be safe everywhere is to be strong nowhere.”

“if we open a quarrel between the past and the present we shall find that we have lost the future.”

“The world…was made to be wooed and won by youth.”

“it is better to have an ambitious plan than none at all.”

“The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.”

“every pleasure has its corresponding drawback, just as every rose its thorn.”

“the tragedy of the twentieth century is that the development of human beings lags far behind the growth of their undertakings. We live in an age of great events and little men.”

“There would be no purpose in living when there is nothing to do.”

“Politics is almost as exciting as war and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.”

“The first victory we have to win is to avoid a battle; the second if we cannot avoid it, to win it.”

“we must be prepared. We must be ready for all eventualities. It is good to be patient, it is good to be circumspect; it is good to be peace-loving. But that is not enough. We must be strong.”

“the essence of American journalism is vulgarity divested of truth.”

“It is always more easy to discover and proclaim general principles than to apply them.”

“In critical and baffling situations it is always best to recur to first principles and simple action.”

“I always avoid prophesying beforehand, because it is much better policy to prophesy after the event has already taken place.”

“Large views always triumph over small ideas.”

“Every prophet has to come from civilization, but every prophet has to go into the wilderness. He must have a strong impression of a complex society and all that it has to give, and then he must serve a period of isolation and meditation. This is the process by which psychic dynamite is made.”

“In one respect a cavalry charge is very like ordinary life. So long as you are all right, firmly in your saddle, your horse in hand, and well armed, lots of enemies will give you a wide berth. But as soon as you have lost a stirrup, have a rein cut, have dropped your weapon, are wounded, or your horse is wounded, then is the moment when from all quarters enemies rush upon you.”

“unpunctuality is a vile habit, and all my life I have tried to break myself of it.”

“The veils of the future are lifted one by one, and mortals must act from day to day.”

“why is it the ship beats the waves, when they are so many and the ship is one? The reason is that the ship has a purpose, and the waves have none.”

“never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

“Perhaps it is better to be irresponsible and right than to be responsible and wrong.”

“It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”

“The price of greatness is responsibility.”

“Too often the strong silent man is silent only because he does not know what to say.”

“Success cannot be guaranteed. There are no safe battles.”

“Victory will never be found by taking the line of least resistance.”

“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

“it is wonderful how well men can keep secrets they have not been told.”

“Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

“I do not wonder that British youth is in revolt against the morbid doctrine that nothing matters but the equal sharing of miseries; that what used to be called the submerged tenth can only be rescued by bringing the other nine-tenths down to their level; against the folly that it is better that everyone should have half rations rather than that any by their exertions, or ability, should earn a second helping.”

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”

“Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”

“I am going to give a long speech today; I haven’t had time to prepare a short one.”

“Any clever person can make plans for winning a war if he has no responsibility for carrying them out.”

“Peace is our aim, and strength is the only way of getting it.”

“Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.”

“If the present tries to sit in judgment of the past, it will lose the future.”

“Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.”

“Socialism assails the pre-eminence of the individual….Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man.”

“I draw a distinction between mistakes. There is the mistake which comes through daring, what I call a mistake towards the enemy, in which you must always sustain your commanders….There are mistakes from the ‘safety-first’ principle, mistakes of turning away from the enemy; and they require a far more acid consideration.”

“Tyranny is our foe, whatever trappings or disguise it wears, whatever language it speaks, be it external or internal, we must forever be on our guard, ever mobilized, ever vigilant, always ready to spring at its throat.”

“The truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is.”

“{Life} is a strange riddle, is it not? We shall learn the answer when we die.”

“Everyone can recognize history after it has happened; but it is only the wise man who knows at the moment what is vital and permanent, what is lasting and memorable.”

“It is sheer laziness not compressing thought into a reasonable space.”

“All the greatest things are simple and many can be expressed in a single word: Freedom; Justice; Honor; Duty; Mercy; Hope.”

“The problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult.”

“I had picked up a wide vocabulary and had a liking for words and for the feel of words fitting and falling into their places like pennies in a slot.”

“One must make the best one can of the opportunities of the age.”

“The story of the human race is War. Except for brief and precarious interludes there has never been peace in the world.”

“War, which used to be cruel and magnificent, has now become cruel and squalid.”

“Fortune is rightly malignant to those who break with the traditions and customs of the past.”

“Wars are not won by evacuations.”

“the human story does not always unfold like an arithmetical calculation on the principle that two and two make four…The element of the unexpected and the unforeseeable is what gives some of its relish to life and saves us from falling into the mechanical thralldom of the logicians.”

“All wisdom is not new wisdom.”

“Everyone remembers the remark of the old man at the point of death: that his life had been full of troubles most of which had never happened.”

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy, then an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then it becomes a tyrant, and in the last stage, just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

“Things do not get better by being let alone. Unless they are adjusted, they explode with shattering detonation.”

“Plant a garden in which you can sit when digging days are done.”

“Strength is granted to us all when we are needed to serve great causes.”

“Those who serve supreme causes must not consider what they can get but what they can give.”

“No technical knowledge can outweigh knowledge of the humanities.”

“Man is spirit.”

“The power of man has grown in every sphere except over himself.”

“At times of crisis, myths have their historical importance.”

“It is better to be making the news than taking it; to be an actor rather than a critic.”

“perfect solutions of our difficulties are not to be looked for in an imperfect world.”

“The maxim, 'Nothing avails but perfection' may be spelt shorter: 'Paralysis.'”

“We must learn to be equally good at what is short and sharp and what is long and tough.”

“it doesn't do to harness a thoroughbred to a dung-cart.”

“It is certainly more agreeable to have the power to give, than the need to receive.”

“it is better to be both right and consistent. But if you have to choose—you must choose to be right.”

“Things are not always right because they are hard, but if they are right one must not mind if they are also hard.”

“It is a fine thing to be honest, but it is also very important to be right.”

“we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!”

“Why do we regard history as of the past and forget we are making it?”

To learn more about Winston Churchill’s life, and what you can learn about it, particularly as to how to find meaning, adventure, and fulfillment as a grown-up, check out “The Winston Churchill School of Adulthood.”

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