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)



Scroll to Top