so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of
chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what
course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or
give me death."
-- Patrick Henry, speech to the
Virginia Convention, Richmond, Virginia, March 23, 1775
"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
-- James Madison, National Gazette essay, March
no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched
situation. No theoretical checks -- no form of government
can render us secure. To suppose liberty or happiness
without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If
there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the
community, it will be exercised in the selection of these
men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put
confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to
-- James Madison, Speech in the Virginia Ratifying
Convention, June 20, 1788
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understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are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 is will be
-- James Madison, Federalist no. 62, February 27,
seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most
enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive
dominion ever exercised by man over man."
-- James Madison, Speech at the Constitutional
Convention, June 6, 1787
James Madison, the
Father of the Constitution, elaborated upon this limitation
in a letter to James Robertson:
With respect to the two 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. If the words obtained so
readily a place in the "Articles of Confederation," and
received so little notice in their admission into the
present Constitution, and retained for so long a time a
silent place in both, the fairest explanation is, that the
words, in the alternative of meaning nothing or meaning
everything, had the former meaning taken for granted.
when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French
refugees who fled from insurrection in San Domingo to
Baltimore and Philadelphia, James Madison stood on the floor
of the House to object saying, "I cannot undertake to lay my
finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a
right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence,
the money of their constituents."
-- James Madison, 4 Annals of congress 179
has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare,
but only those specifically enumerated."
--Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Albert Gallatin,
free government, or the blessing of liberty, can be
preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice,
moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by
frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."
-- George Mason, the
Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776
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
theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best . .
. (for) when all government . . . shall be drawn to
Washington as the centre of all power, it will render
powerless the checks provided of one government on another,
and will become as . . . oppressive as the government from
which we separated."
find no warrant for such an appropriation in the
Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty
of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief
of individual suffering which is in no manner properly
related to the public service or benefit."
-- President Grover Cleveland vetoing a bill for
charity relief (18 Congressional Record 1875 
end for which mankind are warranted, individually or
collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of
any of their number, is self-protection."
-- John Stuart Mill
confine ourselves to the powers described in the
Constitution, and the moment we pass it, we take an
arbitrary stride towards a despotic Government."
-- James Jackson,
First Congress, 1st Annals of Congress, 489
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 and books."
find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into
every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping at the
spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised
to furnish new pretenses for revenue and taxation. It
watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape
without a tribute."
-- Thomas Paine
That the General Assembly of Virginia, doth unequivocally
express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the
Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of
this State, against every aggression either foreign or
domestic ... That this Assembly doth explicitly and
peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the
federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which
the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and
intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no
further valid than they are authorized by the grants
enumerated in that compact; and that in case of deliberate,
palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not
granted by the said compact, the states who are parties
thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose
for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining
within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and
liberties appertaining to them.
-- James Madison, 1799
That the principle and construction contended for by sundry
of the state legislatures, that the general government is
the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to
it, stop nothing short of despotism; since the discretion of
those who administer the government, and not the
constitution, would be the measure of their powers:
That the several states who formed that instrument, being
sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to
judge of its infraction; and that a nullification, by those
sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under colour of
that instrument, is the rightful remedy.
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1799
of the Bill (of Rights) is a declaration of the right of the
people at large or considered as individuals .... It
establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and
which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them
-- Albert Gallatin, New York Historical Society,
October 7, 1789
would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little
temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
-- Ben Franklin, Respectfully Quoted, p. 201, Suzy
Platt, Barnes & Noble, 1993
nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its
freedom; and the irony of it is that, if it is comfort or
money it values more, it will lose that too."
-- William Somerset Maughan, 1941
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, Federal No. 45, January 26, 1788
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
natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and
government to gain ground."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to E. Carrington, May
and frugal government ... shall restrain men from injuring
one another, 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,
March 4, 1801
"Government, in my humble opinion, should be formed to
secure and to enlarge the exercise of the natural rights of
its members; and every government, which as not this in
view, as its principal object, is not a government of the
-- James Wilson, Lectures on Laws, 1791
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 be separated."
-- James Madison, Speech at the Virginia
Convention, December 2, 1829
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,"
-- James Madison, January 21, 1792, in The
Papers of James Madison, vol. 14, Robert A Rutland et. al.,
ed (Charlottesvile: University Press of Virginia,1984).
"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, which impartially secures
to every man, whatever is his own."
-- James Madison, National Gazette, March
1792, in The Papers of James Madison, vol. 14 ed. R.A.
Rutland (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), p.
and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with
which the federal branch of our government is advancing
towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the
States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers,
foreign and domestic; and that, too, by constructions which,
if legitimate, leave no limits to their power... It is but
too evident that the three ruling branches of [the Federal
government] are in combination to strip their colleagues,
the State authorities, of the powers reserved by them, and
to exercise themselves all functions foreign and domestic."
-- Thomas Jefferson to William Branch Giles, 1825.
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition)
Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 16:146
elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but
one which should not only be founded on true free
principles, but in which the powers of government should be
so divided and balanced among general bodies of magistracy,
as that no one could transcend their legal limits without
being effectually checked and restrained by the others."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia Q.
XIII, 1782. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial
Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors ME 2:163
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 to Charles Hammond,
1821. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition)
Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 15:332
greatest [calamity] which could befall [us would be]
submission to a government of unlimited powers."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Declaration and
Protest of Virginia, 1825. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,
(Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 17:445
State has a natural right in cases not within the compact
(casus non faederis) to nullify of their own authority all
assumptions of power by others within their limits. Without
this right, they would be under the dominion, absolute and
unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of
judgment for them."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Draft Kentucky
Resolutions, 1798. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,
(Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors ME 17:387
greater [evil] than separation... [is] living under a
government of discretion."
-- Thomas Jefferson to William Gordon,
1826. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition)
Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 10:358
purpose of a written constitution is] to bind up the several
branches of government by certain laws, which, when they
transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render
unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words a
rebellion, on every infraction of their rights, on the peril
that their acquiescence shall be construed into an intention
to surrender those rights."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia
Q.XIII, 1782. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial
Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 2:178
"Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated
powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no
-- Thomas Jefferson, Draft Kentucky
Resolutions, 1798. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,
(Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 17:380
legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as
are injurious to others."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia,
1782. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition)
Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 2:221
powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only
operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on
defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend
-- James Madison, Speech in the Virginia
Ratifying Convention, June 6, 1788, Elliot's Debates (in the
American Memory collection of the Library of Congress)
been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by
enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it
would disparage those rights which were not placed in that
enumeration, and it might follow by implication, that those
rights which were not singled out, were intended to be
assigned into the hands of the general government, and were
consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible
arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a
bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that may
be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may
see by turning to the last clause of the 4th resolution.
-- James Madison, Proposing Bill of Rights
to House, June 8, 1789
will, at all times hereafter, consider ourselves as a free
and independent state, capable of regulating our internal
police, in all and every respect whatsoever -- and that the
people on said Grants have the sole and exclusive and
inherent right of ruling and governing themselves in such
manner and form as in their own wisdom they shall think
-- Vermont Declaration of Independence,
January 15, 1777
government of the United States is a definite government,
confined to specified objects. It is not like 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
majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime,
abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the
strongest breaks up the foundations of society."
-- Thomas Jefferson
"The evils of
seen but by him who resists it." óJohn Hay, 1872.