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Founding Fathers Quotes





Founding Fathers Quotes

Quotes by America's founding fathers, quotations about the American Revolution, and assorted remarks related to America's founding.

First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life. Pious, just humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform dignified, and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private charter gave effulgence to his public virtues. Such was the man for whom our nation morns
John Marshall, official eulogy of George Washington, delivered by Richard Henry Lee, December 26, 1799

Give me liberty or give me death.
Patrick Henry

Government, in my humble opinion, should be formed to secure and to enlarge the exercise of the natural rights of its members; and every government, which has not this in view, as its principal object, is not a government of the legitimate kind.
James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1791

Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.
Patrick Henry, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 5, 1778

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

How much more do they deserve our reverence and praise, whose lives are devoted to the formation of institutions, which, when they and their children are mingled in the common dust, may continue to cherish the principles and the practice of liberty in perpetual freshness and vigour.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

How prone all human institutions have been to decay; how subject the best-formed and most wisely organized governments have been to lose their check and totally dissolve; how difficult it has been for mankind, in all ages and countries, to preserve their dearest rights and best privileges, impelled as it were by an irresistible fate of despotism.
James Monroe, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 10, 1788

I am commonly opposed to those who modestly assume the rank of champions of liberty, and make a very patriotic noise about the people. It is the stale artifice which has duped the world a thousand times, and yet, though detected, it is still successful. I love liberty as well as anybody. I am proud of it, as the true title of our people to distinction above others; but...I would guard it by making the laws strong enough to protect it.
Fisher Ames, letter to George Richard Minot, June 23, 1789

I am free to acknowledge that His Powers are full great, and greater than I was disposed to make them. Nor, Entre Nous, do I believe they would have been so great had not many of the members cast their eyes towards General Washington as President; and shaped their Ideas of the Powers to be given to a President, by their opinions of his Virtue.
Pierce Butler, letter to Weedon Butler, May 5, 1778

I am not a Virginian, but an American.
Patrick Henry, speech in the First Continental Congress, September 6, 1774

I am not influenced by the expectation of promotion or pecuniary reward. I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary for the public good, become honorable by being necessary.
Nathan Hale, remark to Captain William Hull, who had attempted to dissuade him from volunteering for a spy mission for General Washington, September, 1776

I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil. Everything we do is to improve it, if it happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot and an abhorrence of slavery.
Patrick Henry, letter to Robert Pleasants, January 18, 1773

I have no notion of being hanged for half treason. When a subject draws his sword against his prince, he must cut his way through, if he means afterward to sit down in safety.
Colonel Joseph Reed, to Mr. Pettit, September 29, 1775

I have not yet begun to fight!
John Paul Jones, response to enemy demand to surrender, September 23, 1779

I hope some future day will bring me the happiness of seeing my family again collected under our own roof, happy in ourselves and blessed in each other.
Abigail Adams, letter to John Adams, March 15, 1784

I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.
Nathan Hale, before being hanged by the British, September 22, 1776

I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way.
John Paul Jones, letter to M. Le Ray de Chaumont, November 16, 1778

If all the delegates named for this Convention at Philadelphia are present, we will ever have seen, even in Europe, an assembly more respectable for the talents, knowledge, disinterestedness, and patriotism of those who compose it.
Otto (French charge d'affaires), letter to the Comite de Montmorin, April 10, 1787

If men of wisdom and knowledge, of moderation and temperance, of patience, fortitude and perseverance, of sobriety and true republican simplicity of manners, of zeal for the honour of the Supreme Being and the welfare of the commonwealth; if men possessed of these other excellent qualities are chosen to fill the seats of government, we may expect that our affairs will rest on a solid and permanent foundation.
Samuel Adams, letter to Elbridge Gerry, November 27, 1780

'Tis done. We have become a nation.
Benjamin Rush, on the ratification of the Constitution, letter to Boudinot, July 9, 1788

A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.
Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, February 12, 1779

A good government implies two things; first, fidelity to the objects of the government; secondly, a knowledge of the means, by which those objects can be best attained.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

A lady asked Dr. Franklin Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy — "A republic," replied the Doctor, "if you can keep it."
Anonymous, from Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787

All good men wish the entire abolition of slavery, as soon as it can take place with safety to the public, and for the lasting good of the present wretched race of slaves. The only possible step that could be taken towards it by the convention was to fix a period after which they should not be imported.
Oliver Ellsworth, The Landholder, December 10, 1787

An honorable Peace is and always was my first wish! I can take no delight in the effusion of human Blood; but, if this War should continue, I wish to have the most active part in it.
John Paul Jones, letter to Gouverneur Morris, Sept 2, 1782

An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation.
John Marshall, McCullough v. Maryland, 1819

And it is no less true, that personal security and private property rest entirely upon the wisdom, the stability, and the integrity of the courts of justice.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

Another not unimportant consideration is, that the powers of the general government will be, and indeed must be, principally employed upon external objects, such as war, peace, negotiations with foreign powers, and foreign commerce. In its internal operations it can touch but few objects, except to introduce regulations beneficial to the commerce, intercourse, and other relations, between the states, and to lay taxes for the common good. The powers of the states, on the other hand, extend to all objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, and liberties, and property of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the state.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

As our president bears no resemblance to a king so we shall see the Senate has no similitude to nobles. First, not being hereditary, their collective knowledge, wisdom, and virtue are not precarious. For by these qualities alone are they to obtain their offices, and they will have none of the peculiar qualities and vices of those men who possess power merely because their father held it before them.
Tench Coxe, An American Citizen, No.2, September 28, 1787

Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States.
Noah Webster, An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, 1787

Besides, to lay and collect internal taxes in this extensive country must require a great number of congressional ordinances, immediately operation upon the body of the people; these must continually interfere with the state laws and thereby produce disorder and general dissatisfaction till the one system of laws or the other, operating upon the same subjects, shall be abolished.
Federal Farmer, Antifederalist Letter, October 10, 1787

But the safety of the people of America against dangers from foreign force depends not only on their forbearing to give just causes of war to other nations, but also on their placing and continuing themselves in such a situation as not to invite hostility or insult; for it need not be observed that there are pretended as well as just causes of war.
John Jay, Federalist No. 4
Don't fire unless fired upon. But if they want a war let it begin here.
Captain John Parker, commander of the militiamen at Lexington, Massachusetts, on siting British Troops (attributed), April 19, 1775

Dr. Franklin, looking towards the president's chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising sun from a setting sun. "I have," said he, "often and often in the course of this session and the vicissitude of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun."
Anonymous anecdote from the Constitutional Convention

Eloquence has been defined to be the art of persuasion. If it included persuasion by convincing, Mr. Madison was the most eloquent man I ever heard.
Patrick Henry, on James Madison, November 12, 1790

Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.
Noah Webster, On the Education of Youth in America, 1788

Every person seems to acknowledge his greatness. He blends together the profound politician with the scholar.
William Pierce, on James Madison, 1787

Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other. The divine law, as discovered by reason and the moral sense, forms an essential part of both.
James Wilson

If Virtue & Knowledge are diffused among the People, they will never be enslav'd. This will be their great Security.
Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, February 12, 1779

If, for instance, the president is required to do any act, he is not only authorized, but required, to decide for himself, whether, consistently with his constitutional duties, he can do the act.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

Illustrious examples are displayed to our view, that we may imitate as well as admire. Before we can be distinguished by the same honors, we must be distinguished by the same virtues. What are those virtues? They are chiefly the same virtues, which we have already seen to be descriptive of the American character — the love of liberty, and the love of law.
James Wilson, Of the Study of the Law in the United States, Circa 1790

In a general sense, all contributions imposed by the government upon individuals for the service of the state, are called taxes, by whatever name they may be known, whether by the name of tribute, tythe, tallage, impost, duty, gabel, custom, subsidy, aid, supply, excise, or other name.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

In my judgment it is not only ripe for the measure, but in danger of becoming rotten for the want of it.
John Witherspoon (attributed), debate over the Declaration, July, 1776

In observations on this subject, we hear the legislature mentioned as the people's representatives. The distinction, intimated by concealed implication, through probably, not avowed upon reflection, is, that the executive and judicial powers are not connected with the people by a relation so strong or near or dear. But is high time that we should chastise our prejudices; and that we should look upon the different parts of government with a just and impartial eye.
James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1791

In planning, forming, and arranging laws, deliberation is always becoming, and always useful.
James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1791

In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide. Regard not the particular sect or denomination of the candidate — look to his character....
Noah Webster, Letters to a Young Gentleman Commencing His Education, 1789

In the formation of our constitution the wisdom of all ages is collected--the legislators are antiquity are consulted, as well as the opinions and interests of the millions who are concerned. It short, it is an empire of reason.
Noah Webster, An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, 1787

In the next place, the state governments are, by the very theory of the constitution, essential constituent parts of the general government. They can exist without the latter, but the latter cannot exist without them.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

In the supposed state of nature, all men are equally bound by the laws of nature, or to speak more properly, the laws of the Creator.
Samuel Adams, letter to the Legislature of Massachusetts, January 17, 1794

Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Patrick Henry, speech in the Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775

Is the relinquishment of the trial by jury and the liberty of the press necessary for your liberty? Will the abandonment of your most sacred rights tend to the security of your liberty? Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessings — give us that precious jewel, and you may take every things else! Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel.
Patrick Henry, speech in the Virginia Convention, June 5, 1788

It is an object of vast magnitude that systems of education should be adopted and pursued which may not only diffuse a knowledge of the sciences but may implant in the minds of the American youth the principles of virtue and of liberty and inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.
Noah Webster, On the Education of Youth in America

It is certainly true that a popular government cannot flourish without virtue in the people.
Richard Henry Lee, letter to Colonel Martin Pickett, March 5, 1786

It is important also to consider, that the surest means of avoiding war is to be prepared for it in peace.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honour of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.
John Jay, letter to R. Lushington, March 15, 1786

It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth — and listen to the song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those, who having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.
Patrick Henry, speech in the Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775

It is necessary for every American, with becoming energy to endeavor to stop the dissemination of principles evidently destructive of the cause for which they have bled. It must be the combined virtue of the rulers and of the people to do this, and to rescue and save their civil and religious rights from the outstretched arm of tyranny, which may appear under any mode or form of government.
Mercy Warren, History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, 1805

It is not necessary to enumerate the many advantages, that arise from this custom of early marriages. They comprehend all the society can receive from this source; from the preservation, and increase of the human race. Every thing useful and beneficial to man, seems to be connected with obedience to the laws of his nature, the inclinations, the duties, and the happiness of individuals, resolve themselves into customs and habits, favourable, in the highest degree, to society. In no case is this more apparent, than in the customs of nations respecting marriage.
Samuel Williams, The Natural and Civil History of Vermont, 1794

It is the duty of parents to maintain their children decently, and according to their circumstances; to protect them according to the dictates of prudence; and to educate them according to the suggestions of a judicious and zealous regard for their usefulness, their respectability and happiness.
James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1791

It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religion profession of sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship....
Massachusetts Bill of Rights, Part the First, 1780

It should therefore be difficult in a republic to declare war; but not to make peace.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs, whether any free government can be permanent, where the public worship of God, and the support of religion, constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape. The future experience of Christendom, and chiefly of the American states, must settle this problem, as yet new in the history of the world, abundant, as it has been, in experiments in the theory of government.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
James Wilson, Of the Study of the Law in the United States, Circa 1790

Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.
Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishment, quoted by Thomas Jefferson in Commonplace Book, 1774-1776

Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual — or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.
Samuel Adams, in the Boston Gazette, April 16, 1781

Let the American youth never forget, that they possess a noble inheritance, bought by the toils, and sufferings, and blood of their ancestors; and capacity, if wisely improved, and faithfully guarded, of transmitting to their latest posterity all the substantial blessings of life, the peaceful enjoyment of liberty, property, religion, and independence.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

Liberty is a word which, according as it is used, comprehends the most good and the most evil of any in the world. Justly understood it is sacred next to those which we appropriate in divine adoration; but in the mouths of some it means anything, which enervate a necessary government; excite a jealousy of the rulers who are our own choice, and keep society in confusion for want of a power sufficiently concentered to promote good.
Oliver Ellsworth, The Landholder, No. III, November 19, 1787

Liberty is not to be enjoyed, indeed it cannot exist, without the habits of just subordination; it consists, not so much in removing all restraint from the orderly, as in imposing it on the violent.
Fisher Ames, Essay on Equality, December 15, 1801

Men, to act with vigour and effect, must have time to mature measures, and judgment and experience, as to the best method of applying them. They must not be hurried on to their conclusions by the passions, or the fears of the multitude. They must deliberate, as well as resolve.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

My hand trembles, but my heart does not.
Stephen Hopkins(attributed), Rhode Island delegate, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Nevertheless, to the persecution and tyranny of his cruel ministry we will not tamely submit — appealing to Heaven for the justice of our cause, we determine to die or be free....
Joseph Warren, American account of the Battle of Lexington, April 26, 1775

No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and Virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.
Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, November 4, 1775

No Taxation without Representation!
Anonymous slogan in response to British Tax Policy, Circa 1765

Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.
John Witherspoon, The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, 1776

Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust must be men of unexceptionable characters.
Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, November 4, 1775

Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interest of his constituents, as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people, from whence he was taken, where he must participate in their burdens.
George Mason, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 14, 1778

O sir, we should have fine times, indeed, if, to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people! Your arms, wherewith you could defend yourselves, are gone; and you have no longer an aristocratical, no longer a democratical spirit. Did you ever read of any revolution in a nation, brought about by the punishment of those in power, inflicted by those who had no power at all?
Patrick Henry, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 5, 1778

On the other hand, the duty imposed upon him to take care, that the laws be faithfully executed, follows out the strong injunctions of his oath of office, that he will "preserve, protect, and defend the constitution." The great object of the executive department is to accomplish this purpose; and without it, be the form of government whatever it may, it will be utterly worthless for offence, or defence; for the redress of grievances, or the protection of rights; for the happiness, or good order, or safety of the people.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

One of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one's house. A man's house is his castle.
James Otis, On the Writs of Assistance, 1761

Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.
Joseph Warren, Boston Massacre Oration, March 6, 1775

Our unalterable resolution would be to be free. They have attempted to subdue us by force, but God be praised! in vain. Their arts may be more dangerous then their arms. Let us then renounce all treaty with them upon any score but that of total separation, and under God trust our cause to our swords.
Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, April 16, 1776

Patriotism is as much a virtue as justice, and is as necessary for the support of societies as natural affection is for the support of families.
Benjamin Rush, letter to His Fellow Countrymen: On Patriotism, October 20, 1773

Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.
Leviticus 25:10, Inscription on the Liberty Bell

Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
The Northwest Ordinance, July 23, 1787

Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

Resolved: That these colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved of all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective colonies for their consideration and approbation.
Richard Henry Lee, Resolution in Congress, June 7, 1776

Since private and publick Vices, are in Reality, though not always apparently, so nearly connected, of how much Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost Pains be taken by the Publick, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated on the Minds even of children, and the moral Sense kept alive, and that the wise institutions of our Ancestors for these great Purposes be encouraged by the Government. For no people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffusd and Virtue is preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.
Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, November 4, 1775

Slavery naturally tends to destroy all sense of justice and equity. It puffs up the mind with pride: teaches youth a habit of looking down upon their fellow creatures with contempt, esteeming them as dogs or devils, and imagining themselves beings of superior dignity and importance, to whom all are indebted. This banishes the idea, and unqualifies the mind for the practice of common justice.
David Rice, speech to the constitutional convention of Kentucky, 1792

Slavery, or an absolute and unlimited power in the master over the life and fortune of the slave, is unauthorized by the common law.... The reasons which we sometimes see assigned for the origin and the continuance of slavery appear, when examined to the bottom, to be built upon a false foundation. In the enjoyment of their persons and of their property, the common law protects all.
James Wilson, The Natural Rights of Individuals, 1804

So that the executive and legislative branches of the national government depend upon, and emanate from the states. Every where the state sovereignties are represented; and the national sovereignty, as such, has no representation.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

Some talked, some wrote, and some fought to promote and establish it, but you and Mr. Jefferson thought for us all. I never take a retrospect of the years 1775 and 1776 without associating your opinions and speeches and conversations with all the great political, moral, and intellectual achievements of the Congress of those memorable years.
Benjamin Rush, to John Adams, February 17, 1812

That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot by any compact deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
The Virginia Bill of Rights, June 12, 1776

That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.
Recommended Bill of Rights from the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 27, 1778

The American war is over; but this far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government, and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens for these forms of government after they are established and brought to perfection.
Benjamin Rush, letter to Price, May 25, 1786

The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.
Patrick Henry, speech in the Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775

The constitution of the United States is to receive a reasonable interpretation of its language, and its powers, keeping in view the objects and purposes, for which those powers were conferred. By a reasonable interpretation, we mean, that in case the words are susceptible of two different senses, the one strict, the other more enlarged, that should be adopted, which is most consonant with the apparent objects and intent of the Constitution.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

The convention have done well, therefore, in so disposing of the power of making treaties, that although the President must, in forming them, act by the advice and consent of the Senate, yet he will be able to manage the business of intelligence in such a manner as prudence may suggest.
John Jay, Federalist No. 64, March 7, 1788

The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it.
James Wilson, Of the Study of Law in the United States, Circa 1790


The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness which the ambitious call, and ignorant believe to be liberty.
Fisher Ames, speech in the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, January 15, 1788

The law of nature and the law of revelation are both Divine: they flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source. It is indeed preposterous to separate them from each other.
James Wilson, Of the Law of Nature, 1804

The moral precepts delivered in the sacred oracles form a part of the law of nature, are of the same origin and of the same obligation, operating universally and perpetually.
James Wilson, Of the Law of Nature, 1804

The most important consequence of marriage is, that the husband and the wife become in law only one person... Upon this principle of union, almost all the other legal consequences of marriage depend. This principle, sublime and refined, deserves to be viewed and examined on every side.
James Wilson, Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1792

The plain import of the clause is, that congress shall have all the incidental and instrumental powers, necessary and proper to carry into execution all the express powers. It neither enlarges any power specifically granted; nor is it a grant of any new power to congress. But it is merely a declaration for the removal of all uncertainty, that the means of carrying into execution those, otherwise granted, are included in the grant.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791

The powers of congress must be defined, but their means must be adequate to the purposes of their constitution. It is possible there may be abuses and misapplications; still, it is better to hazard something than to hazard at all.
Oliver Ellsworth, letter to Governor Trumbull, July 10, 1783

The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men.
Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, November 4, 1775

The pyramid of government-and a republican government may well receive that beautiful and solid form-should be raised to a dignified altitude: but its foundations must, of consequence, be broad, and strong, and deep. The authority, the interests, and the affections of the people at large are the only foundation, on which a superstructure proposed to be at once durable and magnificent, can be rationally erected.
James Wilson, Legislative Department, 1804

The pyramid of government-and a republican government may well receive that beautiful and solid form-should be raised to a dignified altitude: but its foundations must, of consequence, be broad, and strong, and deep. The authority, the interests, and the affections of the people at large are the only foundation, on which a superstructure proposed to be at once durable and magnificent, can be rationally erected.
James Wilson

The state governments have a full superintendence and control over the immense mass of local interests of their respective states, which connect themselves with the feelings, the affections, the municipal institutions, and the internal arrangements of the whole population. They possess, too, the immediate administration of justice in all cases, civil and criminal, which concern the property, personal rights, and peaceful pursuits of their own citizens.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

The true test is, whether the object be of a local character, and local use; or, whether it be of general benefit to the states. If it be purely local, congress cannot constitutionally appropriate money for the object. But, if the benefit be general, it matters not, whether in point of locality it be in one state, or several; whether it be of large, or of small extent.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

The truth is, that, even with the most secure tenure of office, during good behavior, the danger is not, that the judges will be too firm in resisting public opinion, and in defence of private rights or public liberties; but, that they will be ready to yield themselves to the passions, and politics, and prejudices of the day.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than their abilities; and for this reason, the heart should be cultivated with more assiduity than the head.
Noah Webster, On the Education of Youth in America, 1788

The whole of that Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals...[I]t establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of.
Albert Gallatin, letter to Alexander Addison, October 7, 1789

There is a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away. There is a time to fight, and that time has now come.
Peter Muhlenberg, from a Lutheran sermon read at Woodstock, Virginia, Jan, 1776

There is a tradition that, on his return from France, Jefferson called Washington to account at the breadfast-table for having agreed to a second chamber. "Why," asked Washington, "did you pour that coffee into your saucer?" "To cool it," quoth Jefferson. "Even so," said Washington, "we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it."
Anonymous, from Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787

There is little need of commentary upon this clause. No man can well doubt the propriety of placing a president of the United States under the most solemn obligations to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution. It is a suitable pledge of his fidelity and responsibility to his country; and creates upon his conscience a deep sense of duty, by an appeal, at once in the presence of God and man, to the most sacred and solemn sanctions, which can operate upon the human mind.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire. If therefore we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage.
John Witherspoon, The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, 1776

There! His Majesty can now read my name without glasses. And he can double the reward on my head!
John Hancock, upon signing the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776


This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a ban of brethren, united to each other by the strongest of ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.
John Jay, Federalist No. 2, 1787

Those gentlemen, who will be elected senators, will fix themselves in the federal town, and become citizens of that town more than of your state.
George Mason, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 14, 1778

To all general purposes we have uniformly been one people each individual citizen everywhere enjoying the same national rights, privileges, and protection. As a nation we have made peace and war; as a nation we have vanquished our common enemies; as a nation we have formed alliances, and made treaties, and entered into various compacts and conventions with foreign states.
John Jay, Federalist No. 2, 1787

To prevent crimes, is the noblest end and aim of criminal jurisprudence. To punish them, is one of the means necessary for the accomplishment of this noble end and aim.
James Wilson, Of the Study of the Law in the United States, Circa 1790

Under all those disadvantages no men ever show more spirit or prudence than ours. In my opinion nothing but virtue has kept our army together through this campaign.
Colonel John Brooks, letter to a friend, January 5, 1778

We are not to consider ourselves, while here, as at church or school, to listen to the harangues of speculative piety; we are here to talk of the political interests committed to our charge.
Fisher Ames, speech in the United States House of Representatives, April 8, 1789

We are, heart and soul, friends to the freedom of the press. It is however, the prostituted companion of liberty, and somehow or other, we know not how, its efficient auxiliary. It follows the substance like its shade; but while a man walks erect, he may observe that his shadow is almost always in the dirt. It corrupts, it deceives, it inflames. It strips virtue of her honors, and lends to faction its wildfire and its poisoned arms, and in the end is its own enemy and the usurper's ally, It would be easy to enlarge on its evils. They are in England, they are here, they are everywhere. It is a precious pest, and a necessary mischief, and there would be no liberty without it.
Fisher Ames, Review of the Pamphlet on the State of the British Constituiton, 1807

We have duties, for the discharge of which we are accountable to our Creator and benefactor, which no human power can cancel. What those duties are, is determinable by right reason, which may be, and is called, a well informed conscience. What this conscience dictates as our duty, is so; and that power which assumes a control over it, is an usurper; for no power can be pleaded to justify the control, as any consent in this case is void.
The Essex Result, May 12, 1778

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness: that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

We know the Race is not to the swift nor the Battle to the Strong. Do you not think an Angel rides in the Whirlwind and directs this Storm?
John Page, letter to Thomas Jefferson, July 20, 1776

Well known to be the greatest philosopher of the present age; — all the operations of nature he seems to understand, — the very heavens obey him, and the Clouds yield up their Lightning to be imprisoned in his rod.
William Pierce, on Benjamin Franklin, 1787

What a glorious morning this is!
Samuel Adams, to John Hancock at the Battle of Lexington, 1775

What a glorious morning this is!
Samuel Adams, to John Hancock at the Battle of Lexington, Massachusetts, April 19, 1775

What is it that affectionate parents require of their Children; for all their care, anxiety, and toil on their accounts? Only that they would be wise and virtuous, Benevolent and kind.
Abigail Adams, letter to John Quincy Adams, November 20, 1783

When divorces can be summoned to the aid of levity, of vanity, or of avarice, a state of marriage frequently becomes a state of war or stratagem.
James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1791

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Law of Nature and Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

When the Convention to form a Constitution was sitting in Philadelphia in 1787, of which General Washington was president, he had stated evenings to receive the calls of his friends. At an interview between Hamilton the Morrises, and others, the former re
Anonymous anecdote from the Constitutional Convention

Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? It is feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American...[T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.
A Pennsylvanian, The Pennsylvania Gazette, February 20, 1788

Wisely, therefore, do they consider union and a good national government as necessary to put and keep them in such a situation as, instead of inviting war, will tend to repress and discourage it. That situation consists in the best possible state of defense, and necessarily depends on the government, the arms, and the resources of the country.
John Jay, Federalist No. 4

With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers, which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live as slaves.
Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson, Declaration of the Cause and Necessity of Taking up Arms, July 6, 1775


Without justice being freely, fully, and impartially administered, neither our persons, nor our rights, nor our property, can be protected. And if these, or either of them, are regulated by no certain laws, and are subject to no certain principles, and are held by no certain tenure, and are redressed, when violated, by no certain remedies, society fails of all its value; and men may as well return to a state of savage and barbarous independence.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

Without liberty, law loses its nature and its name, and becomes oppression. Without law, liberty also loses its nature and its name, and becomes licentiousness.
James Wilson, Of the Study of the Law in the United States, Circa 1790

[I]f the public are bound to yield obedience to laws to which they cannot give their approbation, they are slaves to those who make such laws and enforce them.
Candidus, in the Boston Gazette, January 20, 1772

[I]f you speak of solid information and sound judgment, Colonel Washington is, unquestionably the greatest man on that floor.
Patrick Henry, on George Washington, October 1775

[N]either the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.
Samuel Adams, essay in The Public Advertiser, Circa 1749

[R]eligion, 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 this is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.
Virginia Bill of Rights, Article 16, June 12, 1776

[The President] is the dignified, but accountable magistrate of a free and great people. The tenure of his office, it is true, is not hereditary; nor is it for life: but still it is a tenure of the noblest kind: by being the man of the people, he is invested; by continuing to be the man of the people, his investiture will be voluntarily, and cheerfully, and honourably renewed.
James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1791

[T]he importance of piety and religion; of industry and frugality; of prudence, economy, regularity and an even government; all ... are essential to the well-being of a family.
Samuel Adams, letter to Thomas wells, November 22, 1780

[T]he people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.
Zacharia Johnson, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 25, 1778

[W]e are confirmed in the opinion, that the present age would be deficient in their duty to God, their posterity and themselves, if they do not establish an American republic. This is the only form of government we wish to see established; for we can never be willingly subject to any other King than He who, being possessed of infinite wisdom, goodness and rectitude, is alone fit to possess unlimited power.
Instructions of Malden, Massachusetts, for a Declaration of Independence, May 27, 1776

[W]hen the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, — who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually, by totally disusing and neglecting the militia.
George Mason, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 14, 1778

[W]here there is no law, there is no liberty; and nothing deserves the name of law but that which is certain and universal in its operation upon all the members of the community.
Benjamin Rush, letter to David Ramsay, Circa April, 1788

[W]hereas, to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them; nor does it follow from this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it.
Federal Farmer, Antifederalist Letter, No.18, January 25, 1778









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