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Will Rogers' Wisdom & Humor is Still Timely in the 21st Century

Updated on March 4, 2017

The man.

Will Rogers has been called “typically American”, but the wisdom he expressed in many of his quotes, to me, makes him many things, but typical may not be the right word.

His ancestry was Irish, Welsh, English, either German or Dutch and Cherokee Indian and was born in 1879 in Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. So, like many Americans, he had a melting pot ancestry and was also connected to the original, true Americans, Native Americans. He died seemingly too soon and relatively young in a plane crash in Alaska in 1935. Even though it was a short life, Will did a lot with it. He attended schools, worked as a cowboy, managed a ranch, traveled and worked in South America, Europe and South Africa, married, had three sons and a daughter, had a 10 year career in Vaudeville, starred in the Ziegfeld Follies musicals, produced and starred in movies, did radio broadcasts, wrote syndicated newspaper columns, lectured and raised money for benefits.

If he was still alive today...

He was popular with many people and though he refused to run for any political office, he did share his wisdom through his many quotes. If he was alive today, I expect he would be, among other things, a Blogger and a late night comedian, doing specials for cable television, have Las Vegas and/or Branson acts, telethons and would be entertaining American troops and have a Facebook page with many, many likes.

While I expect he would be a comedian, he would probably be way ahead of modern comedians. I wonder how much of the “wisdom” that comes from today’s popular shows, blogs and Facebook clever posts will still be valid at the end of this century. Many of Will Rogers’ pearls of wisdom were correct in his day and are still valid and maybe even more important in the 21st century than the 20th century.

Regarding being a citizen and the congress

I recently read a book called The Best of Will Rogers by Bryan Sterling. (Copyright 1979) It lists 1,001 of Will’s quotes. I will highlight a few quotes from this book that I think are especially relevant.

  • It’s a great county but you can’t live in it for nothing. (I think we can guess how he feels about “entitlements.)
  • If we could just send the same bunch of men to Washington for the good of the nation, and not for political reasons, we could have the most perfect government in the world.
  • This new senator says he is going to use “common sense” in the senate. That’s what they all say when they start in. But then, if nobody don’t understand you, why, you naturally have to switch.
  • I see there is a bill up in congress now to amend the Constitution. It means that the men who drew up this thing years ago didn’t know much, and we are just now getting a bunch of real fellows who can take the old parchment and fix it up like it should have been all these years. And I guess, when they get the Constitution all fixed up, they’ll start in on the Ten Commandments, just as soon as they’ll find somebody in Washington who has read them.

On America and Presidents

  • When some nation wants us to help 'em out, they use the same old gag: that America should exert MORAL LEADERSHIP, and we, like yaps, believe it, when, as a matter of truth, no nation wants any other nation exerting "Moral Leadership" over 'em- even if they had one. We mean well, but wind up in wrong, as usual.
  • No matter what we do, we are wrong. If we help a nation, we are wrong; if we don't help 'em, we are wrong. There just ain't any such animal as International Good Will. It just lasts till the money you lent 'em runs out. (Wow. That sounds like several relationships I have been in as well.)
  • On account of us being a democracy, and run by the people, we are the only nation in the world that has to keep a government for four years, no matter what it does.
  • If ever an industry is having a field day, it's the industry of paid leaders in every line who are explaining to their followers "what the government owes to them." I haven't seen a copy of the Constitution in years - I guess they are out of print - but I don't remember anything in there about what it was to do. In fact, if I remember right, we owed more to the Constitution than it did to us.
  • An emperor is bigger than a president; he is what a president would be if he dident have any congress or senate to see that he does nothing.
  • In his message the president spoke of the high cost of living. That's all they ever do-just speak of it. (The same could be said today about switching energy sources and eliminating our dependence on foreign oil and paying off the national debt.)
  • What this country needs is more working men, and fewer politicians.

On campaigns, elections and recession

  • So much money is being spent on the campaigns that I doubt if either man, as good as they are, are worth what it will cost to elect them.
  • Take your campaign contribution, and send it to the Red Cross, and let the election be decided on its merit.
  • There is really no difference in the two platforms. How could there be? They are both catering to the same voters.
  • ....All you'd hear is candidates saying: "What I intend to do, is...." What he intends to do is to try and get elected - that's all any of them intends to do.
  • In this country people don't vote for - they vote against. You know that.
  • Last year we said: "Things can't go on like this!" And they didn't - they got worse.
  • Our government is the only people that just love to spend money without being compelled to, at all. But the government is the only people that don't have to worry where it is coming from.

On armed forces and the budget.

  • A country is known by it's strength, and a man by his checkbook.
  • Was talking to a lady congressman and she said to me: "Why do these men say that all that armament will bring peace?" I told her: "Well, even if it don't bring peace, it will come in mighty handy in case of war."
  • You see, we have been lucky that way, all of our wars have waited on us till we could get ready. But one day, we may have one where the enemy won't wait! You think that's kidding? Well, you are just another senator if you do.

It seems Will had a sense that something like Pearl Harbor or 9/11 would happen sooner or later. He also saw that the air force would be important in future wars.

  • I never joke about old soldiers who try to get to reunions to talk over the war again. To talk of old times with old friends is the greatest thing in the world.

On communism and labor

  • Communism is like Prohibition; it's a good idea but it won't work.
  • Communists have some good ideas, of course, but they got a lot more that sound better than they work.
  • The only way you can tell a member of the party from an ordinary Russian, is that the Soviet man will be in a car.
  • It's a tough time for any group to start making demands. The farmer deserves a profit, but the guy that's not eating deserves a meal more. The stockholder deserves his dividend, but the unemployed deserves his job more.
  • Machines are a great thing, but if one replaces a hundred men, it don't buy anything, it don't eat anything, while a hundred men would spend their pay back for food, shelter and hundreds of various commodities for themselves and their families. So you can have all the theories and plans you want, but folks got to have work.
  • I see where the coal strike was settled in the usual way - with the public paying more for coal.
  • Did you see what the senate voted for yesterday? A week's work is to consist of thirty-six hours! I doubt very much if the people working now will agree to an increase in time of work, like that. We stick to the old American principle of only working when the boss is looking. Perhaps Will did not envision security cameras to check up on workers' productivity.

On a few other things

  • The lower-tax issue has been dragged out and dusted off. When a party can't think of anything else, they always fall back on lower taxes. It has a magic sound to a voter, just like fairyland is spoken of and dreamed of by all children. But no child has ever seen it, neither has any voter lived to see the day when his taxes were really lowered.
  • What has the poor farmer done against the Almighty that he should deserve all this? If it's not the heat, it's the deep snow; if it's not the drought, it's a flood; if it's not boll weevil, it's the tariff; if it's not the relief, why it's rain. There is only one pest he is free from - that's income tax.
  • Everbody is ignorant, only on different subjects.
  • It's great to be great, but it's greater to be human.
  • No man is great if he thinks he is.


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    • Agnes Penn profile image

      Maria del Pilar Perez 11 months ago from Nicholson, Pennsylvania, USA

      I do hope you didn't mean me? - "That sounds like several relationships I have been in as well." Ha ha ha. Great article!

    • profile image

      Karen butterfield 5 years ago

      It's a tough time for any group to start making demands. The farmer deserves a profit, but the guy that's not eating deserves a meal more. The stockholder deserves his dividend, but the unemployed deserves his job more.

      I believe this quote will be true until the end of times, however, our infrastructure isnt capable of accommodating the simple problems. I believe the complexities of our system leads to more small public matters falling through the cracks