Hall of Founding Quotes

Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.

--Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

'Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent Alliances, with any portion of the foreign world.

--George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.

--Thomas Jefferson, fair copy of the drafts of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, (I conjure you to believe me fellow citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government.

--George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

--Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

--Thomas Paine, Dissertation on First Principles of Government, December 23, 1791

Can you then consent to be the only sufferers by this revolution, and retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness and contempt? Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honor? If you can — GO — and carry with you the jest of tories and scorn of whigs — the ridicule, and what is worse, the pity of the world. Go, starve, and be forgotten!

--George Washington, letter to the Officers of the Army, March 12, 1783

We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

--Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

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

I have accepted a seat in the [Massachusetts] House of Representatives, and thereby have consented to my own ruin, to your ruin, and the ruin of our children. I give you this warning, that you may prepare your mind for your fate.

--John Adams, to Abigail Adams, May 1770

An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens....There has never been a moment of my life in which I should have relinquished for it the enjoyments of my family, my farm, my friends & books.

--Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Melish, January 13, 1813

If men through fear, fraud or mistake, should in terms renounce and give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave.

--John Adams, Rights of the Colonists, 1772

Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, Judges, and Governors, shall all become wolves.

--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787

His temper was excellent, and he generally observed decorum in debate. On one or two occasions I have seen him angry, and his anger was terrible; those who witnessed it, were not disposed to rouse it again.

--Thomas Jefferson, on Patrick Henry, December, 1824

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

I should consider the speeches of Livy, Sallust, and Tacitus, as preeminent specimens of logic, taste and that sententious brevity which, using not a word to spare, leaves not a moment for inattention to the hearer. Amplification is the vice of modern oratory.

--Thomas Jefferson, letter to David Harding, April 20, 1824

Is it the Fourth?

--Thomas Jefferson, evening July 3; Jefferson died the next morning, July 4, 1826

As riches increase and accumulate in few hands, as luxury prevails in society, virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature; it is what neither the honorable member nor myself can correct. It is a common misfortunate that awaits our State constitution, as well as all others.

--Alexander Hamilton, speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, June, 1788

Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to "bind me in all cases whatsoever" to his absolute will, am I to suffer it?

--Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, No. 1, December 19, 1776

Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.

--Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

I wish from my soul that the legislature of this State could see a policy of a gradual Abolition of Slavery.

--George Washington, letter to Lawrence Lewis, August 4, 1797

The Grecians and Romans were strongly possessed of the spirit of liberty but not the principle, for at the time they were determined not to be slaves themselves, they employed their power to enslave the rest of mankind.

--Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, No. 5, March 21, 1778

Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.

--George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.

--George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

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

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

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

--James Madison, letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822

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 instituted to protect property of every sort; 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

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
The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.

--James Madison, speech in the Virginia constitutional convention, Dec 2, 1829

When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.

— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Charles Hammond [1821]


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