The Political Shakespeare: 9 Winston Churchill Quotes for Readers and Thought Leaders

Winston Churchill Quotes
Sir Winston Churchill, 1942 © LoC

Signature’s This Week in History remembers events of the past, and the icons that set them in motion. If you're stirred by the words below, read more inspiring author quotes.

In 1930, having "studied intently" the book Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Winston Churchill noted how "the quotations, when engraved upon the memory, give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more." Thirty-three years later on April 9, 1963 -- this week in history -- the ol' British Bulldog became the second person ever to bear the title "Honorary Citizen of the United States." Since then, April 9th is commemorated across the states as Winston Churchill Day, and this year we've decided to celebrate by engraving Churchill's own quotes upon our collective memory.

Churchill would likely chuckle at the thought of his words being immortalized in the very books he admired as a child, but he certainly wouldn't object. As a man with -- let's face it -- a large ego and a delightful sense of hyperbole, I doubt he'd mind being likened to the Bard of Avon, for he was something of a political Shakespeare to the people of the 20th century. As a wordsmith he was playful and irreverent. His literary powers of persuasion were such that even the most stubborn of phrases would turn for him. His one-liners have been quoted and misquoted so often, you'd be forgiven to think of Churchill as a writer by trade. Of course, he was something else entirely, but in between his roles as First Lord of the Admiralty, Prime Minister, and our fearless Leader of the Opposition, the Bard of Oxfordshire managed to write and say some truly profound things.

In fact, his ability to articulate himself with such wit, charm, and precision has made him a catchall for orphaned quotes. Don't know who said "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain"? Give it to Churchill! Or how about that drunken rejoinder at a dinner party? "Indeed, Madam, and you are ugly—but tomorrow I'll be sober." Even if he didn't say it, we certainly wouldn't put it past him. The amount of misattributed quotes above his byline could (and do, in fact) fill a Wikipedia page.

While it may be tempting to honor the man with an echo chamber of his most popular witticisms, that would be old hat. We'll spare you the riddle/mystery/enigma turducken, for instance, and instead present you with hand-picked quotes that better reveal the breadth, depth and dimension of the free world's greatest defender.

1. "The truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is." (Speech in the House of Commons, May 17, 1916 "Royal Assent".)

2. "To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often." (Winston Churchill, “His complete speeches, 1897-1963”, edited by Robert Rhodes James, Chelsea House ed., vol. 4, 1922-1928, p. 3706. Lors d’un débat avec Philipp Snowden, chancelier de l’Echiquier, à propos des droits de douane sur la soie.

3. "The world looks with some awe upon a man who appears unconcernedly indifferent to home, money, comfort, rank, or even power and fame. The world feels not without a certain apprehension, that here is some one outside its jurisdiction; someone before whom its allurements may be spread in vain; some one strangely enfranchised, untamed, untrammelled by convention, moving independent of the ordinary currents of human action." (At an unveiling of a memorial to T. E. Lawrence at the Oxford High School for Boys, 3 October 1936; as quoted in Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence, 1989 by Jeremy M Wilson)

4. "The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences." (Speech in the House of Commons, November 12, 1936 "Debate on the Address")

5. "Of this I am quite sure, that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future." (Speech in the House of Commons, June 18, 1940 "War Situation")

6. "The empires of the future are the empires of the mind." (Speech at Harvard University, September 6, 1943, in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 1999, Knowles & Partington, Oxford University Press, p. 215 ISBN 0198601735)

7. "If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without blood shed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves." (The Second World War, Volume I : The Gathering Storm, 1948 Chapter 19, Prague, Albania, and the Polish Guarantee)

8. "Broadly speaking, short words are best, and the old words, when short, are best of all." (Speech on receiving the London Times Literary Award November 2, 1949)

9. "Meeting Roosevelt was like uncorking your first bottle of champagne." (Winston Churchill's visit to FDR's grave site at Hyde Park, NY. Reflecting on his past and the relationship he had with FDR. From the PBS series, American Experience, "The Presidents: FDR")