Favorite Quotations – Founders and First Things
“Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.”
William Penn (1644-1718)
“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806)
Speech, House of Commons, 18 November 1783
“It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority,
keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”
“I will enlarge no more on the evidence, but submit it to you — Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence: nor is the law less stable than the fact; if an assault was made to endanger their lives, the law is clear, they had a right to kill in their own defence.”
John Adams, defending British soldiers in
the Boston Massacre trials (March 1770)
““Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty and is given him by the author of nature, because [it is] necessary for his own sustenance.”
Thomas Jefferson, Argument in Howell v. Netherland April 1770, reproduced in Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892), 1:373–381.
“Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men:
It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.”
“Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” June 20, 1785
“Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it.”
James Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments,” June 20, 1785
“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”
Virginia Declaration of Rights, Section 16, George Mason, Adopted by Virginia Constitutional Convention, June 12, 1776
“Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who, being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do;
that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, have established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time…
that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere, when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;
and finally, that truth is great and will prevail, if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:”
Thomas Jefferson, Preamble to Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom (1786)
“[T]o compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical….”
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Bill No. 82, 1785
“Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet,
our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now”
T. Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, p. 266 (1787 edt,).
Question: “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or a Monarchy?”
Franklin’s Answer: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787
“While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world. Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion.
Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution,
as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.
It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
John Adams, Message to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts (Oct. 11, 1798)
“[T]he law, and the opinion of the judge are not always convertible terms, or one and the same thing; since it sometimes may happen that the judge may mistake the law.”
I. W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 71 (Univ. Chi. fascimile ed. 1765).
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788 – 1860)
The Quotations Page
“No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”
Gideon J, Tucker, LL.D., Surrogate (1826-1899)
The Big Apple.
“If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?”
“The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of a republic, since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers, and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”
Commentaries on the Constitution, Volume III, p. 646
“There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.
If it be said that the legislative body are themselves the constitutional judges of their own powers, and that the construction they put upon them is conclusive upon the other departments, it may be answered, that this cannot be the natural presumption, where it is not to be collected from any particular provisions in the Constitution. It is not otherwise to be supposed, that the Constitution could intend to enable the representatives of the people to substitute their will to that of their constituents. It is far more rational to suppose, that the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority. The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents.
Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.”
Federalist 78, June 14, 1788
“At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”
First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861
Q. Ray L. Scherer, National Broadcasting Company: “Mr. President, there seem to be increasing suggestions that we should embark on a preventive war with the Communist world, some of these suggestions by people in high places. I wonder, sir, if you would care to address yourself to that proposition.”
THE PRESIDENT: “All of us have heard this term “preventive war” since the earliest days of Hitler. I recall that is about the first time I heard it. In this day and time, if we believe for one second that nuclear fission and fusion, that type of weapon, would be used in such a war–what is a preventive war? “
I would say a preventive war, if the words mean anything, is to wage some sort of quick police action in order that you might avoid a terrific cataclysm of destruction later.
A preventive war, to my mind, is an impossibility today. How could you have one if one of its features would be several cities lying in ruins, several cities where many, many thousands of people would be dead and injured and mangled, the transportation systems destroyed, sanitation implements and systems all gone? That isn’t preventive war; that is war.
I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.”
President Dwight Eisenhower, Press Conference (August 11, 1954)
“[I]t is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage [Christianity] among all the citizens and subjects. This is a point wholly distinct from that of the right of private judgment in matters of religion, and of the freedom of public worship according to the dictates of one’s conscience.”
J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the U.S. at sec. 1865 (1833).