Patriotic Quotes and Constitutional Limitations on Government

  • "Is life 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 his possessions."
    -- James Madison, National Gazette essay, March 27, 1792

  • "Is there 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 choose them.
    -- James Madison, Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 20, 1788

  • "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if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what is will be tomorrow."
    -- James Madison, Federalist no. 62, February 27, 1788

  • "We have 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

  • "The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite."
    -- Thomas Jefferson

  • 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.

  • In 1794, 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 (1794)

  • "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated."
    --Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Albert Gallatin, 1817

  • "That no 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

  • "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

  • "the true 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."
    --Thomas Jefferson

  • "The tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
    -- Thomas Jefferson

  • "I can 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 [1877]

  • "I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity. [To approve the measure] would be contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded."
    -- President Franklin Pierce's 1854 veto of a measure to help the mentally ill.

  • "The sole 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
     

  • "We must 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

  • "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 and books."
    --Thomas Jefferson, 1813

  • "All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree."
    -- James Madison in The Federalist

  • "No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent."
    -- Abraham Lincoln, October 16, 1854

  • "We still 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

  • Resolved, 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

  • RESOLVED: 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

  • "You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; right derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe."
    -- John Adams

  • "The whole 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 of."
    -- Albert Gallatin, New York Historical Society, October 7, 1789

  • "Those who 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

  • "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."
    -- Mark Twain, 1894

  • "If a 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

  • "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, Federal No. 45, January 26, 1788

  • "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

  • "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground."
    -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to E. Carrington, May 27, 1788

  • "A wise 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 legitimate kind."
    -- James Wilson, Lectures on Laws, 1791

  • "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 be separated."
    -- James Madison, Speech at the Virginia Convention, December 2, 1829

  • "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,"
    -- 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. 266.

  • "I see,... 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

  • "An 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

  • "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 to Charles Hammond, 1821. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 15:332

  • "The 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

  • "Every 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

  • "The only 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

  • "[The 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 force."
    -- Thomas Jefferson, Draft Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 17:380

  • The 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

  • [T]he 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 its jurisdiction.
    -- James Madison, Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 6, 1788, Elliot's Debates (in the American Memory collection of the Library of Congress)

  • It has 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

  • "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

  • That we 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 proper...
    -- Vermont Declaration of Independence, January 15, 1777

  • " The 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

  • "The only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it's good-by to the Bill of Rights."
    -- H.L. Mencken

  • "The 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 tyranny are rarely seen but by him who resists it." óJohn Hay, 1872.

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