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The Quotable Ronald Reagan

Published: 6/5/2014
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Ronald Reagan (AP Photo/White House)

Even those who didn't like him had to admit Ronald Reagan, who died 10 years ago today, could really deliver a line. During his eight years as the 40th president of the United States, the former actor proved an inspiring speaker, as when, during a 1987 speech in Berlin (which had been divided since 1961 by a Soviet-erected barrier between democratic West Berlin and communist East Berlin), he challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

He was also a quick wit who showed grace under pressure, as he did after the 1981 attempt on his life by John Hinckley Jr. Coughing up blood from a bullet wound to the chest, he quipped, "Please tell me you're all Republicans" to his team of doctors. He borrowed a line from boxer Jack Dempsey when he saw wife Nancy, saying, "Honey, I forgot to duck." Even intubated and unable to speak, he took the time to scribble a note to a nurse, borrowing from W.C. Fields, "All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

Here are 12 lesser-known Reagan quotes culled from Peter Hannaford's 1999 book "The Quotable Ronald Reagan" and a list compiled by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library, which can be found at

"Well, one of the worst mistakes anybody can make is to bet against Americans." – radio address, May 1987.

"The American dream lives – not only in the hearts and minds of our own countrymen but in the hearts and minds of millions of the world's people in both free and oppressed societies who look to us for leadership. As long as that dream lives, as long as we continue to defend it, America has a future, and all mankind has reason to hope." – speech to the annual Washington Conference of the American Legion, February 1983.

"Balancing the budget is a little like protecting your virtue: You just have to learn to say 'no.'" – remarks made at Kansas State University, September 1982.

"Our willingness to speak for freedom is no bargaining chip. It's an integral part of our foreign policy." – remarks during a meeting with journalists in Los Angeles, July 1982.

"Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few, but the universal right of all God's children." – speech to the United Nations General Assembly, October 1985.

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.’" – news conference, August 1986.

"The best view of big government is in the rearview mirror as we leave it behind." – speech at a rally in Georgia, January 1984.

"Terrorism is the preferred weapon of weak and evil men." – remarks made during a business conference, April 1986.

"We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free." – speech at a United States-France ceremony on the 40th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, June 1984.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It has to be fought for and defended by each generation." – remarks made at a Kiwanis International meeting, July 1987.

"The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave." speech to the country after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, January 1986.

"And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table." farewell speech to the nation, January 1989.

Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her lifelong love of obituaries raised eyebrows when she was younger, but she's now able to explain that this interest goes beyond morbid curiosity. Says Pompilio, "Obituaries are mini life stories, allowing a glimpse into someone's world that we're often denied. I just wish we could share them with each other when we're alive."

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