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Word Gems 

exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity


Honor & Character




"We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst." C.S. Lewis



The Amazing Story of My Friend, World War II Hero, Silver-Star Recipient, 95 Year-Old Robert Feland, The Man They Could Not Kill  

"As A Man Thinketh" by James Allen



John Adams, 2nd U.S. President

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."  


James Grant, Party Of One: "Few American public figures [John Adams] have ever been more devoted to doing the right thing, or more contemptuous of doing the merely popular thing."

John Adams, to Elbridge Gerry, December 6, 1777: Fiat Justitia ruat Coelum [Let justice be done though the heavens should fall]

C. Bradley Thompson: The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams:

"From the moment he entered public life, he always seemed to travel the road not taken. Americans have rarely seen a political leader of such fierce independence and unyielding integrity. In debate he was intrepid to the verge of temerity, and his political writings reveal an utter contempt for the art of dissimulation. Unable to meet falsehoods halfway and unwilling to stop short of the truth, Adams was in constant battle with the accepted, the conventional, the fashionable, and the popular ... he had a way of shocking both his most ardent supporters and his most partisan opponents...

"On July 1 [1776], Congress considered final arguments on the question of independence. John Dickinson [of Pennsylvania] argued forcefully against independence. When no one responded to Dickinson, Adams rose and delivered a passionate but reasoned speech that moved the assembly to vote in favor of independence. Years later, Thomas Jefferson recalled that so powerful in 'thought and expression' was Adams's speech, that it 'moved us from our seats.' Adams was, Jefferson said, 'our Colossus on the floor.' ... 'Every member of Congress,' Benjamin Rush would later write, 'acknowledged him to be the first man in the House' ...

"As the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence approached, the ninety-one-year-old Adams was asked to provide a toast for the upcoming celebration in Quincy. He offered as his final public utterance this solemn toast: Independence Forever. These last words stand as a signature for his life and principles. John Adams died on July 4, 1826, fifty years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence...

"During his retirement years, [Adams] was fond of saying that the War for Independence was a consequence of the American Revolution. The real revolution, he declared, had taken place in the minds and hearts of the colonists in the fifteen years prior to 1776. According to Adams, the American Revolution was first and foremost an intellectual revolution."

Official motto of the State of New Hampshire: "Live free or die."

Heraclitus: "A man's character is his destiny."

Shakespeare: "What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted. Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just, and he but naked, though locked up in steel, whose conscience with injustice is corrupted."

Robert M. Hutchins, President, University of Chicago, to the Graduating Class, Commencement Day, 1935: "It is now almost fifteen years since I was in the position you occupy. I can therefore advise you about the dangers and difficulties you will encounter ... My experience and observation lead me to warn you that the greatest, the most insidious ... the most paralyzing danger you will face is the danger of corruption. Time will corrupt you. Your friends, your wives or husbands, your business or professional associates will corrupt you; your social, political, and financial ambitions will corrupt you. The worst thing about life is that it is demoralizing ... Believe me, you are closer to the truth now than you will ever be again. Do not let 'practical' men tell you that you should surrender your ideals because they are impractical. Do not be reconciled to dishonesty, indecency, and brutality because gentlemanly ways have been discovered of being dishonest, indecent, and brutal... Take your stand now before time has corrupted you. Before you know it, it will be too late. Courage, temperance, honor, liberality, justice, wisdom, reason, and understanding, these are still the virtues. In the intellectual virtues, this University has tried to train you. The life you have lived here should have helped you toward the rest. If come what may you hold them fast, you will do honor to yourselves and to the University, and you will serve your country."

Dr. Bill Bennett, President Reagan's Secretary of Education, author of The Death of Outrage: "Honor never grows old, and honor gives the greatest joy, because honor is, finally, about defending noble and worthy things that deserve to be defended, even at a high cost... [M]ost of those who attend Woodstock reunions today were not even at the original festival. Evidently, the memories are just not worth rekindling... [Contrast this with] D-Day veterans, as well as their families and friends, [who] continue to celebrate in huge numbers at their reunions ... something far different than is celebrated at Woodstock."

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences, recounting a memo written during the Civil War by his father's commanding officer to President Lincoln: "To the President of the United States: I have just been offered two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and the most beautiful woman I have ever seen to betray my trust. I am depositing the money with the Treasury of the United States and request immediate relief of this command. They are getting close to my price."

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.: "Character is what we do when we think no one is looking."

Abigail Van Buren: "The best index to a person's character is how he treats people who can't do him any good, and how he treats people who can't fight back."

Martin Luther King, Jr.: "If a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live."

Eleanor Roosevelt: "When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die."

Edward Estlin Cummings: "It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are."

Socrates (c.469-399 BC): "The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be."

Publilius Syrus: "He who has lost honor can lose nothing more."

Winston Churchill in a letter to Lord Moyne, 1938: "Owing to the neglect of our defences and the mishandling of the German problem in the last five years, 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."

Theodore Roosevelt: Reflecting on the influences that had affected his life, Roosevelt once remarked: "I  never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota."

Ralph Waldo Emerson: "People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character."

President Ronald Reagan, Veteran's Day, Nov. 11, 1985: "Our minds play a trick on us ... We see the soldiers [who gave their lives for us] as old and wise; we see them like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray-haired - but most were boys when they died. And they gave two lives: the one they were living, and the one they would have lived."

William Lloyd Garrison, January 1, 1831: "I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation… I am in earnest - I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a single inch - and I will be heard." Those few words from the inaugural issue of the anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, marked the beginning of the journalistic crusade of William Lloyd Garrison that would eventually transform into a successful Abolitionist campaign against slavery.

Helen Gahagan Douglas: "Character isn't inherited. One builds it daily by the way one thinks and acts, thought by thought, action by action. I f one lets fear or hate or anger take possession of the mind, they become self-forged chains."

Thomas S. Monson: "Perhaps the surest test of an individual's integrity is his refusal to do or say anything that would damage his self-respect."

Samuel Johnson: "Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful."

Mark Twain: "To arrive at a just estimate of a renowned man's character one must judge it by the standards of his time, not ours."

Emerson: "Our people are slow to learn the wisdom of sending character instead of talent to Congress. Again and again they have sent a man of great acuteness, a fine scholar, a fine forensic orator, and some master of the brawls has crunched him up in his hands like a bit of paper."

Barbara De Angelis: "Living with integrity means: not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships; asking for what you want and need from others; speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension; behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values; making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe."

Zelda Fitzgerald: "Most people hew the battlements of life from compromise, erecting their impregnable keeps from judicious submissions, fabricating their philosophical drawbridges from emotional retractions and scalding marauders in the boiling oil of sour grapes."

Marcus Tullius Cicero, 42 BC: "A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murder is less to fear."

George S. Patton: "I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom."

George Berkeley: "He who says there is no such thing as an honest man, you may be sure is himself a knave."

Mencius: "The great man does not think beforehand of his words that they may be sincere, nor of his actions that they may be resolute - he simply speaks and does what is right."

Marcus Aurelius: "Thou must be like a promontory of the sea, against which, though the waves beat continually, yet it both itself stands, and about it are those swelling waves stilled and quieted."

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: "What upsets me is not that you lied to me, but that from now on I can no longer believe you."

Thomas Jefferson: "In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock."

Townsmen to Charley Waite, Open Range: "We're freighters... Ralph, here, is a shopkeeper." "You're men, aintcha?" "I didn't raise my boys just to see 'em killed." "You may not know this, but there are things that gnaw on a man worse than dying."

Lewis F. Powell, Supreme Court Justice: "As to values, I was taught - and still believe - that a sense of honor is necessary to personal self-respect; that duty, recognizing an individual's subordination to community welfare, is as important as rights; that loyalty, which is based on the trustworthiness of honorable men, is still a virtue; and that work and self-discipline are as essential to individual happiness as they are to a viable society. Indeed, I still believe in patriotism - not if it is limited to parades and flag-waving, but because worthy national goals and aspirations can be realized only through love of country and a desire to be a responsible citizen."

Abraham Lincoln, address at Cooper Institute, NY, February 27, 1860: "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."

Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography: "No man can lead a public career really worth leading, no man can act with rugged independence in serious crises, nor strike at great abuses, nor afford to make powerful and unscrupulous foes, if he is himself vulnerable in his private character."

George Washington: "I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man."


"If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may be even a worse fate. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves." Winston Churchill




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