Quotes on Politics and Government
DELEGATION OF LEGISLATIVE AUTHORITY:
INSTRUCTION IN ACTS OF TYRANNY LEADING TO THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION:
DOING GOOD FOR THE POOR:
SELF-DEFENSE IN COMMON LAW:
- If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains set lightly upon you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.
- 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.
JEFFERSON'S VIEW OF GOVERNMENT:
- All the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one....As little will it avail us that they are chosen by ourselves. An elective despotism was not the government we fought for..."
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1784
- Mankind soon learn to make interested uses of every right and power which they possess, or may assume. The public money and public liberty, intended to have been deposited with three branches of magistracy, but found inadvertently to be in the hands of one only, will soon be discovered to be sources of wealth and dominion to those who hold them; distinguished, too, by this tempting circumstance, that they are the instrument, as well as the object of acquisition. With money we will get men, said Caesar, and with men we will get money. Nor should our assembly be deluded by the integrity of their own purposes, and conclude that these unlimited powers will never be abused, because themselves are not disposed to abuse them. They should look forward to a time, and that not a distant one, when a corruption in this, as in the country from which we derive our origin, will have seized the heads of government, and be spread by them through the body of the people; when they will purchase the voices of the people, and make them pay the price. Human nature is the same on every side of the Atlantic, and will be alike influenced by the same causes. The time to guard against corruption and tyranny, is before they shall have gotten hold of us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and claws after he shall have entered.
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1784
- If once they ["our people"] become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves.
Thomas Jefferson, letter from Paris, 1787
- Still one thing more, fellow citizens -- a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.
Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 1801
- But there was another amendment, of which none of us thought at the time, and in the omission of which, lurks the germ that is to destroy this happy combination of National powers in the General government, for matters of National concern, and independent powers in the States, for what concerns the States severally. In England, it was a great point gained at the Revolution, that the commissions of the Judges, which had hitherto been during pleasure, should thenceforth be made during good behavior. A Judiciary, dependent on the will of the King, had proved itself the most oppressive of all tools, in the hands of that Magistrate. Nothing, then, could be more salutary, than a change there, to the tenure of good behavior; and the question of good behavior, left to the vote of a simple majority in the two Houses of Parliament. Before the Revolution, we were all good English Whigs, cordial in their free principles, and in their jealousies of their Executive Magistrate. These jealousies are very apparent in all our state Constitutions; and, in the General government in this instance, we have gone even beyond the English caution, by requiring a vote of two-thirds, in one of the Houses, for removing a Judge; a vote so impossible, where any defense is made, before men of ordinary prejudices and passions, that our Judges are effectually independent of the nation. But this ought not to be. I would not, indeed, make them dependent on the Executive authority, as they formerly were in England; but I deem it indispensable to the continuance of this government, that they should be submitted to some practical and impartial control; and that this, to be imparted, must be compounded of a mixture of State and Federal authorities. It is not enough that honest men are appointed Judges. All know the influence of interest on the mind of man, and how unconsciously his judgment is warped by that influence. To this bias add that of the espirit de corps, of their peculiar maxim and creed, that "it is the office of a good Judge to enlarge his jurisdiction," and the absence of responsibility; and how can we expect impartial decision between the General government, of which they are themselves so eminent a part, and an individual State, from which they have nothing to hope or fear? We have seen, too, that contrary to all correct example, they are in the habit of going out of the question before them, to throw an anchor ahead, and grapple further hold for future advances of power. They are then, in fact, the corps of sappers and miners, steadily working to undermine the independent rights of the States, and to consolidate all power in the hands of that government in which they have so important a freehold estate. But it is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but by their distribution, that good government is effected. Were not this great country already divided into States, that division must be made, that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do than a distant authority. Every State again is divided into counties, each to take care of what lies within its local bounds; each country again into townships or wards, to manage minuter details; and every ward into farms, to be governed each by its individual proprietor. Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread. It is by this partition of cares, descending in gradation from general to particular, that the mass of human affairs may be best managed, for the good and prosperity of all. I repeat, that I do not charge the Judges with wilful and ill-intentioned error; but honest error must be arrested, where its toleration leads to public ruin. As, for the safety of society, we commit honest maniacs to Bedlam, so judges should be withdrawn from their bench, whose erroneous biases are leading us to dissolution. It may, indeed, injure them in fame or in fortune; but it saves the Republic, which is the first and supreme law.
Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography
QUALIFICATIONS AND PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION FROM STATE RATIFYING CONVENTIONS:
- "Congress shall never disarm any citizen, unless such as are or have been in actual rebellion,"
- "That no person shall be compelled to do military duty otherwise than by voluntary enlistment, except in cases of general invasion"; "As a traffic tending to establish or continue the slavery of any part of the human species is disgraceful to the cause of liberty and humanity, that Congress shall, as soon as may be, promote and establish such laws and regulations as may effectually prevent the importation of slaves of every descriptions into the United States,"
- "That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness"; "That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, including the body of the people capable of bearing arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state"; "That standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and ought not to be kept up, except in cases of necessity"; "That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or [sic, N.B.] unusual punishment inflicted"; "That nothing contained in the said Constitution is to be construed to prevent the legislature of any state from passing laws at its discretion, from time to time, to divide such state into convenient districts, and to apportion its representatives to and amongst such districts"; "That the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States, or of any other court to be instituted by the Congress, is not in any case to be increased, enlarged, or extended, by any faction, collusion, or mere suggestion; and that no treaty is to be construed so to operate as to alter the Constitution of any state"; "That the Congress do not grant monopolies, or erect any company with exclusive advantages of commerce"; "That no standing army or regular troops shall be raised, or kept up, in time of peace, without the consent of two thirds of the senators and representatives present in each house"; "That no person be eligible as a senator for more than six years in any term of twelve years; and that the legislatures of the respective state may recall their senators..."; "That no person shall be eligible to the office of President of the United States a third time,"
"That there are certain natural rights, of which men, when they form a social compact, cannot deprive or divest their posterity, among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety"; "That government ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the people; and that the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive to the good and happiness of mankind"; "That no man or set of men are entitled to exclusive or separate public emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services"; "That the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers of government should be separate and distinct, and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression by feeling and participating the public burdens: they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into the mass of the people, and the vacancies be supplied by certain and regular elections, in which all or any part of the former members to be eligible or ineligible, as the rules of the constitution of government and the laws shall direct"; "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 defense 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"; "That Congress shall not declare any state to be in rebellion, without the consent of at least two thirds of all the members present in both houses";
ON CONSTANTLY ENLARGING AND CHANGING THE LAWS:
- It is a misfortune incident to republican government, though in a less degree than to other governments, that those who administer it may forget their obligations to their constituents and prove unfaithful to their important trust....
....What indeed are all the repealing, explaining, and amending laws, which fill and disgrace our voluminous codes, but so many monuments of deficient wisdom; so many impeachments exhibited by each succeeding against each preceding session....?
The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessings of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?
....Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any manner effecting 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....
....What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not but that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed? What farmer or manufacturer will lay himself out for the encouragement given to any particular cultivation or establishment, when he can have no assurance that his preparatory labors and advances will not render him a victim to an inconstant government?...
....No government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable without possessing a certain portion of order and stability.
James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 62
THE LIMITATIONS OF DEMOCRACY
A FEDERALIST ON THE REDRESS OF USURPTATIONS OF POWER:
If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual State... The obstacles to usurpation and the facilities of resistance increase with the increased extent of the state, provided the citizens understand their rights and are disposed to defend them... Power being almost always the rival of power, the general government will at all times stand ready to check the usurpations of the state governments, and these will have the same disposition towards the general government. The people, by throwing themselves into either scale, will infallibily make it preponderate. If their rights are invaded by either, they can make use of the other as the instrument of redress... ..the State governments will, in all possible contingencies, afford complete security against invasions of the public liberty by the national authority.
Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper No. 28
THE LIMITATION OF FEDERAL POWER:
- I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article in the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.... With respect to the words general welfare, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.
James Madison, 1791
WHAT THE SECOND AMENDMENT IS ABOUT:
- ...but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.
Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper No. 29
Another source of power in government is a military force. But this, to be efficient, must be superior to any force that exists among the people, or which they can command; for otherwise this force would be annihilated, on the first exercise of acts of oppression. Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in American 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. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealous [sic] will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.
The power of the sword, say the minority of Pennsylvania, is in the
hands of Congress. My friends and countrymen, it is not so, for THE POWERS
OF THE SWORD ARE IN THE HANDS OF THE YEOMANRY OF AMERICA FROM SIXTEEN TO
SIXTY. The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to
their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and
irresistible. Who are the militia? are they not ourselves. Is it 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. What clause in
the state or (federal) constitution hath given away that important right.
... The 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.
Tench Coxe, letter to the Philadelphia Gazette, 20 February 1788
DECLARATION OF RIGHTS, CONSTITUTION OF THE CHOCTAW NATION, ARTICLE I:
- Nana isht imaivlhpiesa moma ishahli micha, Kvfamint yoka heyu hosh ilvppa ka tokma atobacha aivlhpisa chi moako yakohmashke.
That the general, great and essential principles of liberty and free government may be recognized and established, we declare:
- Sek. 1 Hattak yuka heyu kokvtto yakohmit itibachvfat hieli kvt, nan isht imaivlhpiesa atokmvut itilawashke; yohmi ka hattak nana hohkia, kyukmvt kanohmi hohkia okla moma nana isht aim aivlhpiesa, micha isht aimaivlhtoba he aima ka kanohmi bano hosh isht ik imaivlhpieso kashke. Amba moma kvut nana isht imachukma chi ho tuksvli hokmakashke-
Sec. 1. That all free men, when they form a social compact, are equal in rights, and that no man or set of men are entitled to exclusive, separate public emolument or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services.
- Sek. 2 Oklah moma hatokmvt, nana kvt aivlpiesa hinla kvt afoyoka ho mvhli hatokma ko, nana kvut vlhpisa na Okla moma kvt isht imachukma chi ka apisa he vt imaivlhpiesa cha Kafanmint yuka keyu ikbashke, yohmi tok osh ishahlit isht a mahaya hinla kvt otani hokma, nittak nana hohkia nana ho apihinsa tok vt kobafi, keyukmvt mosholichi cha ila chit ikbi bvnna hokmvt imaivlhpiesashke.
Sec. 2. That all political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and established for their benefit, and therefore they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish their form of government in such manner as they may think proper or expedient.
THE EFFICACY OF GOVERNMENT:
ON FREEDOM TO TRAVEL (AND IMMIGRATE):
- Consider the passport system on the continent of Europe. That system you utterly condemn. You look upon it as an unjust and wicked interference, a bold and infamous violation of the natural and sacred right of locomotion. You hold, (and so do I,) that the image of our common God ought to be a passport all over the habitable world. But bloody and tyrannical governments have ordained otherwise, they usurp authority over you, and decide for you, on what conditions you shall travel. They say, you shall have a passport, or you shall be put in prison.
WHAT TO DO FOR FREED SLAVES:
- A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded....Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes.
ON THE CHINESE AND DEMOCRACY:
ON CONTROL OF OUR BODIES:
- Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress, but I repeat myself.
A FORECAST OF THE DANGERS OF A FEDERAL INCOME TAX:
- A hand from Washington will be stretched out and placed upon every man's business; the eye of the Federal inspector will be in every man's counting house. The law will of necessity have inquisitorial features, it will provide penalties. It will create a complicated machinery. Under it businessmen will be hauled into courts distant from their homes. Heavy fines imposed by distant and unfamiliar tribunals will constantly menace the taxpayer. An army of Federal inspectors, spies and detectives will descend upon the state. They will compel men of business to show their books and disclose the secrets of their affairs. They will dictate forms of bookkeeping. They will require statements and affidavits..."
Richard E. Byrd, Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, March 3, 1910, against the ratification of the 16th Amendment (which would allow the Federal Government to Tax incomes)
THE DUBIOUS START OF DRUG PROHIBITION:
- Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
THE ESSENCE OF FASCISM
- What matters is to emphasize the fundamental idea in my party's economic program clearly -- the idea of authority. I want the authority; I want everyone to keep the property he has acquired for himself according to the priniciple: benefit to the community precedes benefit to the individual. But the state should retain supervision and each property owner should consider himself appointed by the state. It is his duty not to use his property against the interests of others among his own people. This is the crucial matter. The Third Reich will always retain its right to control the owners of property.
Adolf Hilter, 1931
THE DISHONESTY OF THE NEW DEAL
THE ANTI-CAPITALISM OF THE NEW DEAL
- You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all."
Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.
Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," 1963
THE INCOME TAX
- The government, with its Income Tax, treats you, supposedly a free citizen, like a child. You must hand your earnings over to "daddy" and then wait patiently for your allowance!
That's why it doesn't matter how low the rate, or how "flat" or "simple" the tax! Any Income Tax gives the government first claim on your income! And that requires you be treated like a child!
If we as a people accept this, we are no longer a country of self-governing adults, with a government that depends on our consent to do the limited things we tell it to do. Instead, we've become a country of children hoping our "parents" will be generous to us.
Alan Keyes, Republican Presidental Candidate, 1999
Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2012 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved