Selected Famous Quotations of our Founding Fathers and other Early Americans
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"The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all."
— George Washington (Farewell Address, September 17, 1796)
(see George W. Bush's comment on this subject)
"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."
— Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Archibald Stuart - 1791)
"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
— Wendell Phillips (speech in Boston, Massachusetts, January 28, 1852, citing Thomas Jefferson, though it has also been attributed to Patrick Henry)
"When governments fear the people there is liberty. When the people fear the government there is tyranny."
— (indirectly attributed to Thomas Jefferson in The Federalist. Also attributed to Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine. It is considered likely that this exact phrase probably originated in 1914, by John Basil Barnhill.)
"Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost." — John Quincy Adams (attributed to Adams, by his contemporaries)
"It is not only [the juror's] right, but his duty...to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court."
— John Adams, 1771 (2nd US President)
"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."
— Thomas Jefferson (attributed to Jefferson, by his contemporaries)
"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters."
— Daniel Webster
"Property is the fruit of labor-property is desirable - it is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich, shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence..."
— Abraham Lincoln (reply to the New York Workingmen’s Democratic Republican Association, Mar. 21, 1864)
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
— Benjamin Franklin (on the title page of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania - 1759)
"... rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our own will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual"
— Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany - 1819)
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedoms of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."
— James Madison (attributed to Madison, by his contemporaries)
"On every question of construction [of the Constitution], let us 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
"We cannot change the hearts of those people, but we can make war so terrible... [and] make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it."
— Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, during his March to the Sea