Quotable Quotes

Secession

Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution.

James Madison

Federalist No. 3

January 1788

 

At the Constitutional Convention, a proposal was made to allow the Federal Government to suppress a seceding state, but that proposal was rejected after James Madison said…

   “A Union of the States containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction.  The use of force against a State, would look more like a declaration of war, than an infliction of punishment, and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.”

 

Even Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the state’s right to secede:

   “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better.  This is a most valuable, a most sacred right – a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.  Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it.  Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.”

 Abraham Lincoln, January 12, 1848

 

 

   “The indissoluble link of union between the people of the several states of this confederated nation is, after all, not in the right but in the heart.  If the day should ever come (may Heaven avert it!) when the affections of the people of these States shall be alienated from each other; when the fraternal spirit shall give way to cold indifference, or collision of interests shall fester into hatred, the bands of political associations will not long hold together parties no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests and kindly sympathies; to part in friendship from each other, than to be held together by constraint.  Then will be the time for reverting to the precedents which occurred at the formation and adoption of the Constitution, to form again a more perfect Union by dissolving that which could no longer bind, and to leave the separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gravitation to the center.”

John Quincy Adams

1839

  

   “The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the States; and in uniting together they have not forfeited their nationality, nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people.  If one of the states chooses to withdraw from the compact, it would be difficult to disprove its right of doing so, and the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims either by force or right.”

Alexis de Tocqueville

 

   “It is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of any individual without its consent.  This is the general sense and the general practice of mankind; and the exemption, as one of the attributes of sovereignty, is now enjoyed by the government of every State in the Union …  The contracts between a nation and individuals are only binding on the conscience of the sovereign, and have no pretensions to a compulsive force.  They confer no right of action, independent of the sovereign will.  To … authorize suits against States for the debts they owe … could not be done without waging war against the contracting State …, a power which would involve such a consequence, would be altogether forced and unwarranted.”

Alexander Hamilton – The Federalist Papers (81)

 

General Welfare Clause

It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please. Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It [the Constitution] was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect.

Thomas Jefferson

Opinion on a National Bank

February 15, 1791

 

 

They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please…Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect.

Thomas Jefferson

Opinion on National Bank

1791

 

   If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.

James Madison

Letter to Edmund Pendleton

January 21, 1792

 

   [T]he government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.

James Madison

Speech in the House of Representatives

January 10, 1794

 

 

Welfare

   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

 

   If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Thomas Cooper

Nov 29, 1802

 

 

Rule of Law [Level Playing Field]

 

History affords us many instances of the ruin of states, by the prosecution of measures ill suited to the temper and genius of their people. The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy… These measures never fail to create great and violent jealousies and animosities between the people favored and the people oppressed; whence a total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections, by which the whole state is weakened.

Benjamin Franklin

Emblematical Representations

Circa 1774

 

The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all citizens.

Thomas Jefferson

Note in Destutt de Tracy

1816

Government is instituted to protect property of every suit; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses.  This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.

James Madison

Essay on Property

March 29, 1792

 

 

 

It is sufficiently obvious, that persons and property are the two great subjects on which Governments are to act; and that the rights of persons, and the rights of property, are the objects, for the protection of which Government was instituted. These rights cannot well be separated.

James Madison

Speech at the Virginia Convention

December 2, 1829

 

The House of Representatives…can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as the great mass of society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interest, and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny.

James Madison

Federalist No. 57

February 19, 1788

 

 

 

National Debt

But with respect to future debt; would it not be wise and just for that nation to declare in the constitution they are forming that neither the legislature, nor the nation itself can validly contract more debt, than they may pay within their own age, or within the term of 19 years.

Thomas Jefferson

September 6, 1789

 

The multiplication of public offices, increase of expense beyond income, growth and entailment of a public debt, are indications soliciting the employment of the pruning knife.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Spencer Roane

March 9, 1821

 

 

   I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to William Ludlow

September 6, 1824

 

It is a wise rule and should be fundamental in a government disposed to cherish its credit, and at the same time to restrain the use of it within the limits of its faculties, “never to borrow a dollar without laying a tax in the same instant for paying the interest annually, and the principal within a given term; and to consider that tax as pledged to the creditors on the public faith.”

 

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to John Wayles Eppes

June 24, 1813

 

The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to John Taylor

May 28, 1816

 

The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public moneys.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Shelton Gilliam

June 19, 1808

 

We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Samuel Kercheval

July 12, 1816

 

That the most productive system of finance [of the government] will always be the least burdensome.

James Madison

Federalist No. 39

January 1788

 

Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.

Herbert Hoover

 

 

States’ Rights

I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground that “…all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.” To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, not longer susceptible of any definition.

Thomas Jefferson

Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank

February 15, 1791

 

   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

 

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.

James Madison

Federalist No. 45

January 26, 1788

 

There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

James Madison

Speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention

June 16, 1788

 

 

Supreme Court

It seems that it didn’t take long for our Founding Fathers to realize that the Supreme Court would distort the meaning and intent of the Constitution in any way that suited their fancy.

   It has long, however, been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression… that the germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal Judiciary … working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Charles Hammond

August 18, 1821

 

   On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to William Johnson

June 12, 1823

 

 

One single object… [will merit] the endless gratitude of the society: that of restraining the judges from usurping legislation.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Edward Livingston

March 25, 1825

 

The Constitution… is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary which they may twist and shape into any form they please.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Judge Spencer Roane

September 6, 1819

 

 

The great object of my fear is the federal judiciary. That body, like gravity, ever acting, with noiseless foot, and unalarming advance, gaining ground step by step, and holding what it gains, is engulfing insidiously the special governments into the jaws of that which feeds them.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Judge Spencer Roane

March 9, 1821

 

The judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric. They are construing our constitution from a co-ordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Thomas Ritchie

December 25, 1820

 

[T]he opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not only for themselves, in their own sphere of action, but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Abigail Adams

September 11, 1804

 

 

Free Enterprise

 

I think all the world would gain by setting commerce at perfect liberty.

Thomas Jefferson

July 7, 1785

 

   To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Joseph Milligan

April 6, 1816

 

Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue; or in any manner affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change and can trace its consequences; a harvest reared not by themselves but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few not for the many.

James Madison (likely)

Federalist No. 62

1788

 

 

   I own myself the friend to a very free system of commerce, and hold it as a truth, that commercial shackles are generally unjust, oppressive and impolitic — it is also a truth, that if industry and labour are left to take their own course, they will generally be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out.

James Madison

Speech to the Congress

April 9, 1789

 

 

Liberty

 

They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin

Historical Review of Pennsylvania

1759

 

The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.

Thomas Jefferson

Letter to Edward Carrington

May 27, 1788

 

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

 

Government is not the answer – government is the problem.

   The nine scariest words you will ever hear – “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”

 

Ronald Regan