Founding Father Quotes

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“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive.”

– Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Smith Adams, February 22nd, 1787

“Those that can give up essential liberty to gain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

– Benjamin Franklin

“The people… are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

– Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, 1787

“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right…and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.”

– John Adams, A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1765

“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.”

  – James Madison, Address at the Virginia Convention, June 16th, 1788

“Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”

– Benjamin Franklin, Maxims and Morals, 1807

“Be a listener only, keep within yourself, and endeavor to establish with yourself the habit of silence, especially on politics. In the fevered state of our country, no good can ever result from any attempt to set one of these fiery zealots to rights, either in fact or principle. They are determined as to the facts they will believe, and the opinions on which they will act. Get by them, therefore, as you would by an angry bull; it is not for a man of sense to dispute the road with such an animal.”

– Thomas Jefferson, Letter to his grandson, Thomas J. Randolph, Nov. 28th, 1808

“It is favourable to liberty. Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge. Without learning, men are incapable of knowing their rights, and where learning is confined to a few people, liberty can be neither equal nor universal.”

– Benjamin Rush, essay 1786

“Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist; and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves.”

– Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Henry Lee, August 10th, 1824

“It (politics) serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”

– George Washington, Farewell Address, September 17th, 1796

“If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the People, they will never be enslav’d. This will be their great Security.”

– Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, February 12th, 1779

“Without liberty, law loses its nature and its name, and becomes oppression. Without law, liberty also loses its nature and its name, and becomes licentiousness.”

– James Wilson, Of the Study of the Law in the United States, Circa 1790

“When the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, – who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually, by totally disusing and neglecting the militia.”

– George Mason, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 14, 1778

“Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.”

– John Adams, defense of the Constitution, 1787

“It is an object of vast magnitude that systems of education should be adopted and pursued which may not only diffuse a knowledge of the sciences but may implant in the minds of the American youth the principles of virtue and of liberty and inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.”

– Noah Webster, On the Education of Youth in America, 1788

“A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of a higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means.”

– Thomas Jefferson to John B. Colvin, September 20th, 1810

“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

– Thomas Jefferson

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow.”

– James Madison

“The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all citizens.”

– Thomas Jefferson, Note in Destutt de Tracy, 1816

“What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”

– Thomas Jefferson

“This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty… The right of self-defense is the first law of nature; in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest possible limits… Wherever standing armies are kept up and [when] the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.”

– St. George Tucker

“The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace both from the enormous expenses with which they are attended and the facile means which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers to subvert the government or trample upon the rights of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of a republic since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers and will generally even if these are successful the first instance enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”

– Justice Joseph Story

“Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion for the defence of the country, the over-throw of tyranny, or in private self-defense.”

– John Adams

“It is not by the consolidation or concentration of powers, but by their distribution that good government is effected.”

– Thomas Jefferson

“Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any Manner contrary to their conscience.”

– James Madison

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

– Thomas Jefferson to the Baptist Association of Danbury, CT, January 1st, 1802

“I must admit, moreover, that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation, between the rights of Religion and the Civil authority, with such distinctness, as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to a usurpation on one side, or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against by an entire abstinence of the Government from interference, in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others.”

– James Madison, letter to Jasper Adams, September 1833

“We lay it down as a fundamental, that laws, to be just, must give a reciprocation of right; that, without this, they are mere arbitrary rules of conduct, founded in force, and not in conscience.”

– Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the state of Virginia, 1782

“Let us dare to read, think, speak and write.”

– John Adams

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free… all is safe.”

– Thomas Jefferson

“Paper money has had the effect in your state that it will ever have, to ruin commerce, oppress the honest, and open the door to every species of fraud and injustice.”

– George Washington to J. Bowen 1787

“All the perplexities, confusion and distress in America arise, not from defects in their Constitution or Confederation, not from want of honor or virtue, so much as from the downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit and circulation.”

– John Adams

“Bank-paper must be suppressed, and the circulating medium must be restored to the nation to whom it belongs.”

– Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes in 1813

“The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore to resolve to conquer or die.”

– George Washington, Address to the Continental Army before the battle of Long Island, August 27th, 1776

“Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!”

– John Dickinson, The Liberty Song, 1768

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

– Thomas Jefferson, Letter to W.C. Jarvis, September 28th, 1820

“And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

– James Madison

“On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarrelling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind.”

– Thomas Jefferson

“Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.”

– George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19th, 1796

“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 by 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 everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”

– Thomas Paine

NOTE:  A few sites offer numerous quotes including marksquotes.com and foundingfatherquotes.com

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