Quotes about Government


A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.
Edward Abbey (1927-1989) – A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis in Deserto) (1990)

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.
Lord Acton (1834-1902) – Letter to Mandell Creighton (5 April 1887), published in Historical Essays and Studies, by John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton (1907), edited by John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence, Appendix, p. 504

Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.
Lord Acton (1834-1902) – The History of Freedom in Antiquity (1877)

Whenever a single definite object is made the supreme end of the State, be it the advantage of a class, the safety of the power of the country, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or the support of any speculative idea, the State becomes for the time inevitably absolute. Liberty alone demands for its realization the limitation of the public authority, for liberty is the only object which benefits all alike, and provokes no sincere opposition.
Lord Acton (1834-1902) – “Nationality” in Home and Foreign Review (July 1862); republished in The History of Freedom and Other Essays (1907), p. 288

The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern.
Lord Acton (1834-1902) – Letter to Mary Gladstone, April 24, 1881, Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone, 1913, p. 73.

The difference is slight, to the influence of an author, whether he is read by five hundred readers, or by five hundred thousand; if he can select the five hundred, he reaches the five hundred thousand.
Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918) – The Education of Henry Adams, ch. 17, 1907

As the happiness of the people is the sole end of government, so the consent of the people is the only foundation of it.
John Adams (1735-1826) – Proclamation (1774)

The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.
John Adams (1735-1826) – A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law, (1765)

But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.
John Adams (1735-1826) – Letter to Abigail Adams (17 July 1775)

Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.
John Adams (1735-1826) – Letter to Zabdiel Adams (21 June 1776)

Posterity! you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.
John Adams (1735-1826) – Letter to Abigail Adams (27 April 1777), published as Letter CXI in Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife (1841) edited by Charles Francis Adams, p. 218

The furnace of affliction produces refinement in states as well as individuals. And the new Governments we are assuming in every part will require a purification from our vices, and an augmentation of our virtues, or there will be no blessings.
John Adams (1735-1826) – Letter to Abigail Adams (3 July 1776)

There is nothing I dread so much as the division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our constitution.
John Adams (1735-1826) – Letter to Jonathan Jackson (2 October 1789)

The consequences arising from the continual accumulation of public debts in other countries ought to admonish us to prevent their growth in our own.
John Adams (1735-1826) – First Address to Congress, November 23, 1797, in Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society

For no people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and Virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.
Samuel Adams (1722-1803) – Letter to James Warren, November 4, 1775, in Warren-Adams Letters: Being Chiefly a Correspondence Among John Adams, Samuel Adams and James Warren, Volume 72, The Massachusetts Historical Society, 1917, p. 172.

If ever the Time should come, when vain & aspiring Men shall possess the highest Seats in Government, our Country will stand in Need of its experienced Patriots to prevent its Ruin.
Samuel Adams (1722-1803) – Letter to James Warren, October 24, 1780.

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.
Aesop – Quoted in Eigen’s Political and Historical Quotations, Lewis D. Eigen, Quote #59154

A government, for protecting business only, is but a carcass, and soon falls by its own corruption and decay.
A. Bronson Alcott (1799-1888) – Quoted in Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern English and Foreign Sources, ed. Rev. James Wood, Frederick Warne and Co., London, 1899, p. 6

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other.
Oscar Ameringer (1870-1943) – Quoted in Scoundrels All, Ferdinand Lundberg, 1968.

They should rule who are able to rule best.
Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) – Politics II 1273b5

A state is not a mere society, having a common place, established for the prevention of mutual crime and for the sake of exchange. . . .Political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not mere companionship.
Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) – Politics III 1280b30, 1281a3

The basis of a democratic state is liberty.
Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) – Politics IV 1317a40

Nothing is so galling to a people, not broken in from the birth, as a paternal or, in other words, a meddling government, a government which tells them what to read and say and eat and drink and wear.
Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay – Southey’s Colloquies on Society (1830)

The highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it.
Thomas Babington – Review of Aiken’s Life of Addison (1843)

Nothing doth more hurt in a state than that cunning men pass for wise.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) – Essays (1625) Of Cunning

It is a strange desire, to seek power, and to lose liberty; or to seek power over others, and to lose power over a man’s self.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) – “Of Great Place,” Essays (1597-1625)

The best government rests on the people and not on the few, on persons and not on property, on the free development of public opinion and not on authority
George Bancroft (1800 –1891) – The Office of the People in Art, Government and Religion (1835), p. 421

The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another.
George Bancroft (1800 –1891) – A History of the United States (1834-74), Vol. 1, ch. 10, p. 365

The exact measure of the progress of civilization is the degree in which the intelligence of the common mind has prevailed over wealth and brute force.
George Bancroft (1800 –1891) – The Office of the People in Art, Government and Religion, pp. 426-7

Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.
John Basil Barnhill – “Indictment of Socialism No. 3” – Barnhill-Tichenor Debate on Socialism. Saint Louis, Missouri: National Rip-Saw Publishing. pp. p. 34

The object of government in peace and in war is not the glory of rulers or of races, but the happiness of the common man.
William Lord Beveridge (1879-1963) – Social Insurance and Allied Services, pt. 7, 1942

Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) – Essays on Political Economy, Pt. 3, “Government,” 1848 – also: .http://bastiat.org/en/government.html

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal well meaning but without understanding.
Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941), Olmstead v. U.S. 277 U.S. 438 (1928), 479.

Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine this court should resolutely set its face.
Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941) – Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928) Dissenting opinion.

A passion for politics stems usually from an insatiable need, either for power, or for friendship and adulation, or a combination of both.
Fawn M. Brodie (1915-1981) – Thomas Jefferson, ch. 1 (1974)

This is not a contest between persons. The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error.
William Jennnings Bryan – Cross of Gold Speech (1896) Speech at the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, Illinois (9 July 1896)

None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free.
Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) – What America Means to Me, ch. 4 (1943)

And having looked to Government for bread, on the very first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) – Thoughts and Details on Scarcity. Vol. v. p. 156.

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) – Speech to the Electors of Bristol (1774-11-03); reported in The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke (1899), vol. 2, p. 95.

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) – Speech at at county meeting, Buckinghamshire, England (1784)

Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) – Reflections on the Revolution in France, (1790)

People crushed by law, have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws; and those who have much hope and nothing to lose, will always be dangerous.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) – Letter to Charles James Fox, 10-8-1777

Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) – Reflections on the Revolution in France, (1790)

The moment you abate anything from the full rights of men to each govern himself, and suffer any artificial positive limitation upon those rights, from that moment the whole organization of government becomes a consideration of convenience.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) – Reflections on the Revolution in France, (1790)

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) – Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791).

All modern revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the power of the state.
Albert Camus (1913-1960) – The Rebel (1951, trans. 1953)

In the long-run every Government is the exact symbol if its People, with their wisdom and unwisdom; we have to say, Like People like Government.
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) – Past and Present, Bk 4, ch 4, (1843)

Good government is the outcome of private virtue.
John Jay Chapman (1862-1933) – Practical Agitation, Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1898, p. 42.

The salvation of the common people of every race and of every land from war or servitude must be established on solid foundations and must be guarded by the readiness of all men and women to die rather than submit to tyranny.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) – Speech at Zurich University (September 19, 1946)

Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) – Speech in the House of Commons (1947-11-11)

Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.
Henry Clay (1777–1852)- Speech at Ashland, Ky., March, 1829.

When more of the people’s sustenance is extracted through the form of taxation than is necessary to meet the just obligations of government and expenses of its economical administration, such extraction becomes ruthless and a violation of the fundamental principles of a free government..
Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) – Second Annual Message, December, 1886

Thought the people support the government, the government should not support the people.
Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) – Veto of Texas Seed bill, Feb. 16, 1887

The very existence of government at all, infers inequality. The citizen who is preferred to office becomes the superior of those who are not, so long he is the repository of power
James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) – The American Democrat, 1838, republished Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington D.C., 2000, p. 395.

Nations it may be have fashioned their Governments, but the Governments have paid them back in the same coin.
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) – Under Western Eyes, Harper & Brothers, NY, 1911, p. 24

Every time the government attempts to handle our affairs, it costs more and the results are worse than if we had handled them ourselves.
Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) – Cour De Politique Constitutionnelle (1818-20)

Governments are not built to perceive large truths. Only people can perceive great truths. Governments specialize in small and intermediate truths. They have to be instructed by their people in great truths.
Norman Cousins (1915-1990) – The Pathology of Power (1987), pg. 207

What a man really says when he says that someone else can be persuaded by force, is that he himself is incapable of more rational means of communication.
Norman Cousins (1915-1990) – Quoted in Peter’s Quotations : Ideas for Our Time (1977) by Laurence J. Peter

It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.
Variant: The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
John Philpot Curran (1750-1817) – Speech upon the Right of Election for Lord Mayor of Dublin, 1790. (The Speeches of the Right Honorable John Philpot Curran, ed. Thomas Davis, pp. 94–95 (1847) as quoted in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. The variants have been attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Lincoln, among others.

I repeat … that all power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that from the people and for the people all springs, and all must exist.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) Vivian Grey, Henry Colburn, London, 1826, Chapter VII.

To govern men, you must either excel them in their accomplishments, or despise them.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) – From a letter to his father – cited in Lord Beaconsfield’s Letters, 1830-1852 (1882), p. 32.

Wherever is found what is called a paternal government, there is found state education. It has been found that the best way to insure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) – speech in the House of Commons (1874-06-15)

I am a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad. I seek to preserve property and to respect order, and I equally decry the appeal to the passions of the many or the prejudices of the few.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) – Campaign speech found in Selected Speeches of the Late Right Honorable the Earl of Beaconsfield, Vol. 1 (1882)

Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) – The World As I See It, “Some Notes on my American Impressions (First published as “My First Impression of the U.S.A. (1921)).

A people that values it’s privileges above its principles soon loses both.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) – First Inaugural Address, Tuesday, January 20, 1953

History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) – First Inaugural Address, Tuesday, January 20, 1953

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) – Speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 1953

Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) – The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson: 1843-1847, Harvard University Printing Office, 1971, p 413.

Government has been a fossil: it should be a plant.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) – “The Young American,” Lecture read before the Mercantile Library Association, Boston, Feb. 7, 1884

For what avail the plough or sail,/Or land or life, if freedom fail.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) – Poem “Boston” 1873. Debuted in a formal reading at Faneuil Hall on Dec. 16, 1873 at the Centennial Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literacy or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race.
Richard Feynman (1918-1988) – “The Uncertainty of Values” in The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist (1999)

A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.
Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006) – Presidential address to a joint session of Congress, August 12, 1974 – Misattributed to Barry Goldwater.

Truth is the glue that holds government together.
Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006) – Speech, August 9, 1974, on succeeding Richard Nixon as President

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin – published in Memoirs of the life and writings of Benjamin Franklin v 1, (1818), p 334. Many variant versions of the quote exist on the web.

All men would be masters of others, and no man is lord of himself.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) – quoted in Forty Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical, Harrap & Co., London, 1917, p 871.

Which is the best government? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) – The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, tr Bailey Saunders, (1893), Maxim 225

The majority represent a mass of cowards, willing to accept him who mirror its own soul and mind poverty.
Emma Goldman (1869-1940) – “Francisco Ferrer and the Modern School,” Anarchism and Other Essays, Mother Earth Publishing, 1917

It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) – The Federalist Papers No. 1, October 27, 1787

For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) – The Federalist Papers No. 1, October 27, 1787

A government ought to contain in itself every power requisite to the full accomplishment of the objects committed to its care, and to the complete execution of the trusts for which it is responsible, free from every other control but a regard to the public good and to the sense of the people.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) – The Federalist Papers, No. 31, January 1, 1788

In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) – The Federalist Feb.8, 1788

It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)- 06-21-1788, Speech in New York urging ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

The origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact, between the rulers and the ruled; and must be liable to such limitations, as are necessary for the security of the absolute rights of the latter; for what original title can any man or set of men have, to govern others, except their own consent? To usurp dominion over a people, in their own despite, or to grasp at a more extensive power than they are willing to entrust, is to violate that law of nature, which gives every man a right to his personal liberty; and can, therefore, confer no obligation to obedience.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)- The Farmer Refuted, 23 February,  (1775)

When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) – The Federalist, on the New Constitution, Vol 1, Hamilton, Madison, Jay, NY, George F. Hopkins, 1802, p. 100.

All good government must begin at home. It is useless to make good laws for bad people; what is wanted is this, to subdue the tyranny of the human heart.
Hugh R. Haweis (1838-1901) – Speech in Season,, Henry S. King & Co, London, 1875, p 191.

What experience and history teach is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on any lessons they might have drawn from it. Variant: What experience and history teach is this – that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.
Georg Wilhelm Fredrich Hegel (1770-1831) – Letters on the Philosophy of History, tr H.B. Nisbet, 1975, Introduction

The provisions of the Constitution are not mathematical formulas having their essence in their form; they are organic, living institutions transplanted from English soil. Their significance is vital, not formal; it is to be gathered not simply by taking the words and a dictionary, but by considering their origin and the line of their growth.
Justice Holmes (Oliver Wendell) (1841-1935) Samuel Gompers et all v United States, 233 U.S. 604 (34 S.Ct. 693, 58 L.Ed. 1115)

Nothing appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.
David Hume (1711-1776) – Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, 1741-2; 1748, Essay 4, Of the First Principles of Government

If you want to find out what a man is to the bottom, give him power. Any man can stand adversity — only a great man can stand prosperity. (another variant:) But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test. It is the glory of Lincoln that, having almost absolute power, he never abused it, except on the side of mercy.
Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899 ) In a speech about Abraham Lincoln delivered on Jan. 16, 1883 in Washington D.C. The Variant was published in The Works of Robert Ingersoll, v3, 1902. The quote has been misattributed to Lincoln for over 100 years. Quoteinvestigator analysis of the attribution can be found here.

If the general government should persist in the measures now threatened, there must be war. It is painful enough to discover with what unconcern they speak of war and threaten it. They do not know its horrors. I have seen enough of it to make me look upon it as the sum of all evils.
Stonwall JacksonMemoirs of Stonewall Jackson by His Widow Mary Anna Jackson (1895), Ch. IX : War Clouds — 1860 – 1861, p. 141

All governments are, to a certain extent, a treaty with the Devil.
Fredrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819) – “The Flying Leaves,” in Prose Writers of Germany, ed Hedge, 1855, p. 217

Money is power, and in that government which pays all the public officers of the states will all political power be substantially concentrated.
Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) – Pocket veto of a land bill, December 4, 1833. Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. II, ed. J.D. Richardson, Washington (1908)

It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.
Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) – American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 442-43 (1950)

Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers.
John Jay (1745-1829) – Federalist No. 2, October 31, 1787

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – Letter to Archibald Stuart (December 23, 1791)

The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – in Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774).

What more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more … 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 labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

The only orthodox object of the institution of government is to secure the greatest degree of happiness possible to the general mass of those associated under it.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – Letter to F .A. Van Der Kemp, March 22, 1812

I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – Letter to James Madison, Jan. 30, 1787, Boyd, Julian P., ed. Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, p. 93.

I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – To Dr. Benjamin Rush – Monticello, Sep. 23, 1800. (On the issue of the separation of church and state)

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – Letter “to the Republican Citizens of Washington County, Maryland” (31 March 1809)

It must be acknowledged that the term republic is of very vague application in every language… Were I to assign to this term a precise and definite idea, I would say purely and simply it means a government by its citizens in mass, acting directly and personally according to rules established by the majority; and that every other government is more or less republican in proportion as it has in its composition more or less of this ingredient of direct action of the citizens. Such a government is evidently restrained to very narrow limits of space and population. I doubt if it would be practicable beyond the extent of a New England township.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – Letter to John Taylor, 1816, ME 15:19.

The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – Reply to Address, 1790. ME 8:6, Papers 16:225

No government power can be abused long. Mankind will not bear it…. There is a remedy in human nature against tyranny, that will keep us safe under every form of government.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) -quoted in James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, Mar. 31, 1772 (1791)

The safety of the state is the highest law.
Justinian (483-565) – Twelve Tables, 439 BC (Roman Law)

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed – and no republic can survive.
John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) – Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, April 27, 1961.

Any people anywhere being inclined and having the power have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right — a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) – Speech in the United States House of Representatives (January 12, 1848)

The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the constitution that no man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) – Letter to W. H Herndon, Feb 15, 1848

I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) –Reply to Missouri Committee of Seventy (1864)

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) – Letter to Henry Pierce (April 6, 1859)

The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) – Fragment on Government in “The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln“, ed. Roy P. Basler, Vol. 2, p. 220-221.

Freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every on of that society, and made by the legislative power vested in it; a liberty to fo9llow my own will in all things, when the rule prescribes not, and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man.
John Locke (1632-1704) – Second Treatise on Civil Government Book X, Ch. 4, 1690

The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.
John Locke (1632-1704) – Second Treatise on Civil Government, Ch. VI, sec. 57m, 1690

As usurpation is the exercise of power which another has a right to, so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to.
John Locke (1632-1704) – Second Treatise on Civil Government, Ch. XVIII, sec. 199, 1690

All free governments, whatever their name, are in reality governments by public opinion ; and it is on the quality of this public opinion that their prosperity depends. It is, therefore, their first duty to purify the element from which they draw the breath of life.
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) – On Democracy, Inaugural Address on Assuming the Presidency of the Birmingham and Midland Institute, Birmingham, England, 6 October, 1884

Democracy is nothing more than an experiment in government, more likely to succeed in a new soil, but likely to be tried in all soils, which must stand or fall on its own merits as others have done before it. For there is no trick of perpetual motion in politics any more than in mechanics.
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) – On Democracy, Inaugural Address on Assuming the Presidency of the Birmingham and Midland Institute, Birmingham, England, 6 October, 1884

Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story who resolved not to go into the water until he had learnt to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait forever.
Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) – “Milton,” in Edinburough Review, Aug 1825, rep in Museum of Foreign Literature and Science, Volume 8, January – June, 1826, Vol 1.

The chief foundations of all states, new as well as old or composite, are good laws and good arms.
Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) – The Prince, Ch XII.

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.
James Madison (1751-1836) – Letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.
James Madison (1751-1836) – The Federalist Papers, # 47, Independent Journal, Wednesday, January 30, 1788.

In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
James Madison (1751-1836) – The Federalist Papers, # 51, Independent Journal, Wednesday, February 6, 1788.

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 (1751-1836) – The Federalist Papers, # 62, Independent Journal, Wednesday, February 27, 1788

The essence of government is power, and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.
James Madison (1751-1836) – Speech at the Virginia Convention, 1829. The Mind of the Founder: Sources of the Political Thought of James Madison, p. 512, ed. Marvin Meyers, Indianapolis (1973).

Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as by the abuses of power.
James Madison (1751-1836) – The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, p. 330, ed. Clinton Rossiter, New York (1961). The Federalist, No. 53 (February 9, 1788)

Asthe people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived, it seems strictly consonant to the republican theory, to recur to the same original authority, not only whenever it may be necessary to enlarge, diminish, or new-model the powers of the government, but also whenever any one of the departments may commit encroachments on the chartered authorities of the others.
James Madison (1751-1836) – The Federalist Papers, No. 49, February 2, 1788.

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
James Madison (1751-1836) – The Federalist Papers, No. 51, February 6, 1788.

In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by Power. In America … charters of power [are] granted by liberty.
James Madison (1751-1836) – “Charters” (January 8, 1792). W.T. Hutchinson et al., The Papers of James Madison, vol. 14, p. 191, Chicago and Charlottesville, Virginia (1962-1991)

I believe 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; but, on a candid examination of history, we shall find that turbulence, violence, and abuse of power, by the majority trampling on the rights of the minority, have produced factions and commotions, which, in republics, have, more frequently than any other cause, produced despotism.
James Madison (1751-1836) – Speech at the Virginia Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution, June 6, 1788.

A victorious and powerful ally is but another name for a master.
James Madison (1751-1836) with Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) – The Federalist Papers, No. 18, December 7, 1787.

We recipients of the boon of liberty have always been ready, when faced with discomfort, to discard any and all first principles of liberty, and, further, to indict those who do not freely join with us in happily abrogating those principles.
David Mamet (1947- ) – “First Principles,” Theater, Vol 12, Issue 3, Summer/Fall 1981, Duke University Press, p 51.

Authority and power are two different things: power is the force by means of which you can oblige others to obey you. Authority is the right to direct and command, to be listened to or obeyed by others. Authority requests power. Power without authority is tyranny.
Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) – “The Democratic Charter,” Man and the State, University of Chicago Press (1951)

He who would govern others, first should be the master of himself.
Philip Massinger 1583-1640 – Bondman I. 3. 1623-1624

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 that it values more, it will lose that too.
William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) – Strictly Personal, Garden city Publishing co, 1943. Ch 31.

The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself… Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable.
H. L. Mencken – The Smart Set, December 1919

Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping and unintelligent.
H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) – Minority Report: H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks, no. 68, 1956

The whole duty of government is to prevent crime and to preserve contracts.
Lord Melbourne (1779-1848) – Quoted in David Cecil, Lord M., The later life of Lord Melbourne, 1953, p96.

Give me Liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to my conscience, above all other liberties.
John Milton (1608-1674) – Areopagitica: A speech of Mr John Milton for the liberty of unlicenced printing to the Parliament of England is a prose tract by John Milton, published 23 November 1644

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.
John Stuart Mill – On Liberty (1859), Chapter I

He that would govern others, first should be the master of himself.
Phillip Massinger – The Bondman, 1624

The deterioration of a government begins almost always by the decay of its principles.
Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755) – De l’Esprit des Lois, 1748, The Spirit of the Laws, Book VIII, Chapter 1

Liberty itself has appeared intolerable to those nations who have not been accustomed to enjoy it.
Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755) – De l’Esprit des Lois, 1748, The Spirit of the Laws, Book XIX, Chapter 2

Everyone who has ever built anywhere a “new heaven” first found the power thereto in his own hell.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) – The Genealogy of Morals, essay 3, aph. 10 (1887)

Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadows about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power. The worst off-sloughings of the planet are the ingredients of sovereignty. Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us.
P. J. O’Rourke (1947 – ) – in Parliament of Whores (1991).

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
P. J. O’Rourke (1947 – ) – in Parliament of Whores (1991), preface

He who is the author of a war lets loose the whole contagion of hell and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death.
Thomas Paine (1707-1839) – The American Crisis – The Crisis No. V – To General Sir William Howe 1776

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 (1707-1839– Dissertation on First Principles of Government – July 1795.

The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case.
Thomas Paine (1707-1839– Dissertation on First Principles of Government – July 1795.

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
Thomas Paine (1707-1839– The American Crisis – The Crisis No. I, written 19 December 1776, published 23 December 1776

The end of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man; and these rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression.
Thomas Paine (1707-1839) – The Rights of Man, 1779-1792, “The Rights of Man, part the First Being an Answer to Mr. Burke,” The writings of Thomas Paine, Vol 1 (1894-1896).

Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last is a punisher.
Thomas Paine (1707-1839) – Common Sense, Philadelphia, 1776, p. 19

A government of our own is our natural right; and when a man seriously reflects on the precariousness of human affairs, he will become convinced, that it is infinitely wiser and safer, to form a constitution of our own in a cool deliberate manner, while we have it in our power, than to trust such an interesting event to time and chance.
Thomas Paine (1707-1839) – Common Sense, Philadelphia, 1776, p. 46

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 (1707-1839) – Common Sense, Philadelphia, 1776, p. 1

Debt is the fatal disease of republics, the first thing and the mightiest to undermine governments and corrupt the people.
Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) – “The War for the Union,” December, 1861

Government arrogates to itself that it alone forms men. * * * Everybody knows that government never began anything. It is the whole world that thinks and governs.
Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) – Quoted in Forty thousand quotations, prose and poetical: choice extracts on history, Ed Charles Douglas, Harrap & Co,class=”comment”>- Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928) Dissenting opinion.

Democracy passes into despotism.
Plato (437 BC -327 BC) – The Republic, Book VIII, 562-A

Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.
Plato (437 BC -327 BC) – The Republic, Book VIII, 558-C

The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness. …This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.
Plato (437 BC -327 BC) – The Republic, Book VIII, 565-C

As the government is, such will be the man.
Plato (437 BC -327 BC) – The Republic

The punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of worse men.
Paraphrase by Emerson of Socrates in The Republic. “Eloquence,” in The Complete Prose Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ward, Lock and Co., London, 1891, p. 418
Actual quote: Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.
Plato (437 BC -327 BC) – The Republic, Book VII, tr. B. Jowett

In principatu commutando civium
Nil præter domini nomen mutant pauperes.

In a change of government the poor change nothing but the name of their masters.
Phaedrus (15BC – AD 50) – Fables, I. 15. 1.

Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.
Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) – Attributed by Alan Greenspan in The Age of Turbulence, 2007, p. 87

Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them.
Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) – Speech, Dec 11, 1972, published in Speaking My Mind, Selected Speeches, Simon and Schuster, NY, 2004

Fortune and caprice govern the world.
François de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) Maxims, and Moral Reflections. By the Duke de la Rochefoucault, Volume 8, Edinburgh, 1796, Maxim CXLVI, p.43.

Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omission of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.
George Bernard Shaw – Man and Superman (1903) “Maxims for Revolutionists”

Government is an evil, it is only the thoughtlessness and vices of men that make it a necessary evil. When all men are good and wise, Government will of itself decay.
Bercy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) – Address to the Irish People, Dublin, 1812, p. 11.

You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them.When you have robbed a man of everything, he is no longer in your power. He is free again.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn The First Circle, Bobynin, in Ch 17, 1968

The people of a nation are enslaved when, together, they are helpless to institute effective change, when the people serve the government more than the government serves them.
Gerry Spence (1929 – )  Give me Liberty, 1998, Ch 1, p. 8

When any system has for its goal the advancement of the system over the betterment of its individual members, such a system is embedded in slavery.
Gerry Spence (1929 – ) Give me Liberty, 1998, Ch 7, p. 79.

Absolute power can only be supported by error, ignorance and prejudice.
Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl Chesterfield (1694-1773) Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son and Others, p. 312, London, Dent (1796)

The freedom of a government does not depend on the quality of its laws, but upon the power that has the right to create them.
Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) – Speech on Reconstruction, U.S. House of Rep., Jan 3, 1867 in Literature of the Republic, pt. 3, 1835-1860, Ed. Stedman and Hutchinson, Vol V, Webster & Co., NY, 1891, p. 258.

No government can be free that does not allow all its citizens to participate in the formation and execution of her laws.
Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) – Speech on Reconstruction, U.S. House of Rep., Jan 3, 1867 in Literature of the Republic, pt. 3, 1835-1860, Ed. Stedman and Hutchinson, Vol V, Webster & Co., NY, 1891, p. 258.

Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges
The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government. – Variant: The more corrupt the state, the more laws.
Publius Tacitus (or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus; ca. 56 – ca. 117) – Annals (117)

The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) – Civil Disobedience

Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) – Civil Disobedience

Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) – Civil Disobedience

[Administration] covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, guided; men are seldom restrained from acting, such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which government is the shepherd.
Alexis de Tocqueville  (1805-1859) – Democracy In America (1835).

To commit violent and unjust acts, it is not enough for a government to have the will or even the power; the habits, ideas and passions of the time must lend themselves to their committal.
Alexis De Tocqueville (1805-1859)  The Recollections of Alexis De Tocqueville, Tr Alexander Teixeria De Mattos, Macmillan Co. New York, 1896, p 131.

In all history there is no war which was not hatched by the governments, the governments alone, independent of the interests of the people, to whom war is always pernicious even when successful.
Leo Tolstoy – Christianity and Patriotism (1895), as translated in The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoï, Vol. 20, p. 44

Government is not reason. Government is not eloquence. It is force. And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
George Washington  Disputed: Attributed to “The First President of the United States” in “Liberty and Government” by W. M., in The Christian Science Journal, Vol. XX, No. 8 (November 1902) edited by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 465; no earlier or original source for this often quoted statement is cited, nor has such yet been found in research.

Nothing will ruin the country if the people themselves will’ undertake its safety, and nothing can save it, if they leave that safety in any hands but their own.
Daniel Webster (1782-1852) – Speech in Speeches and forensic Arguements, Vol 2, Boston, 1848, p. 246.

Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of the government. The history of government is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of government, not the increase of it.
Woodrow Wilson – Speech at New York Press Club (9 September 1912), in The papers of Woodrow Wilson, 25:124

Liberty is its own reward.
Woodrow Wilson – Speech in New York City (9 September 1912)

The government of man should be the monarchy of reason: it is too often the democracy of passions or the anarchy of humors.
Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683) – Works of Benjamin Whichcote, Vols 1-4,Aberdeen, 1751, Vol 2, 221

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