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The Timeless

Wisdom

of the

Founders

 

I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in providence, for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.

John Adams

 

 

I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

James Madison

 

 

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?


Benjamin Franklin

To Colleagues at the Constitutional Convention

 

 

As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights. Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.


James Madison
National Gazette Essay, March 27, 1792

 

 

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.

John Adams

 

 

A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.


James Madison
Federalist No. 51, February 8, 1788

 

 

We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.

Thomas Jefferson

 

 

Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.

George Washington
Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

 

 

I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.


Benjamin Franklin
On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor, November 1766

 

 

But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.

John Adams

 

 

Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature, that its very extirpation, if not performed with solicitous care, may sometimes open a source of serious evils.


Benjamin Franklin
An Address to the Public, November 1789

 

 

Conscience is the most sacred of all property.


James Madison
Essay on Property, March 29, 1792

 

 

I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.


George Washington
letter to Francis Van der Kamp, May 28, 1788

 


I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.

Thomas Jefferson
to Archibald Stuart, 1791

 

 

Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.


James Madison
Federalist No. 48, February 1, 1788

 

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all Nations, are recommended by policy, humanity and interest. But even our Commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand: neither seeking nor granting exclusive favours or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of Commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing with Powers so disposed; in order to give trade a stable course.

George Washington
Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

 

 

America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.


James Madison
Federalist No. 14, November 30, 1787

 

 

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.


Benjamin Franklin
letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, November 13, 1789

 

 

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.

John Adams
Journal, 1772

 

 

It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.

Alexander Hamilton
Speech on 21 June 1788

 


But ambitious encroachments of the federal government, on the authority of the State governments, would not excite the opposition of a single State, or of a few States only. They would be signals of general alarm... But what degree of madness could ever drive the federal government to such an extremity.


James Madison
Federalist No. 46, January 29, 1788

 

 

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

John Adams

 

 

Repeal that [welfare] law, and you will soon see a change in their manners. St. Monday and St. Tuesday, will soon cease to be holidays. Six days shalt thou labor, though one of the old commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them.

Benjamin Franklin
letter to Collinson, May 9, 1753

 

 

A universal peace, it is to be feared, is in the catalogue of events, which will never exist but in the imaginations of visionary philosophers, or in the breasts of benevolent enthusiasts.


James Madison
essay in the National Gazette, February 2, 1792

 

 

I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species...and to disperse the families I have an aversion.


George Washington
letter to Robert Lewis, August 18, 1799

 

 

Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.

Alexander Hamilton

 

 

An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among the several bodies of magistracy as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.

James Madison
Federalist No. 58, 1788

 

 

Happy, thrice happy shall they be pronounced hereafter, who have contributed any thing, who have performed the meanest office in erecting this stupendous fabrick of Freedom and Empire on the broad basis of Independency; who have assisted in protecting the rights of humane nature and establishing an Asylum for the poor and oppressed of all nations and religions.


George Washington
General Orders, April 18, 1783

 

In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.

John Adams

 

Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human Nature.


George Washington
Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

 

 

How many observe Christ's birth-day! How few, his precepts! O! 'tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments.


Benjamin Franklin
Poor Richard's Almanack, 1743

 

 

I rejoice in a belief that intellectual light will spring up in the dark corners of the earth; that freedom of enquiry will produce liberality of conduct; that mankind will reverse the absurd position that the many were, made for the few; and that they will not continue slaves in one part of the globe, when they can become freemen in another.


George Washington
draft of First Inaugural Address, April 1789

 

 

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