“There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act therefore contrary to the constitution can be valid. To deny this would be to affirm that the deputy is greater than this principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorise, but what they forbid.” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 78”
Category: Politics & Law
“A man raised from the station of a private citizen to the rank of chief magistrate, possessed of but a moderate or slender fortune, and looking forward to a period not very remote, when he may probably be obliged to return to the station from which he was taken, might sometimes be under temptations to sacrifice his duty to his interest, which it would require superlative virtue to withstand. An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth. An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents.” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 75”
“Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks: It is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws, to the protection of property against those irregular and high handed combinations, which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice to the security of liberty against enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction and of anarchy. . . . A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution: And a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be in practice a bad government.” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 70”
“A well constituted court for the trial of impeachments, is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdictions are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties, more or less friendly or inimical, to the accused. In many cases, it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will inlist all their animosities, partialities, influence and interest on one side, or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger, that the decision will be regulated more by the comparitive strength of parties than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt. The delicacy and magnitude of a trust, which so deeply concerns the political reputation and existence of every man engaged in the administration of public affairs, speak for themselves. The difficulty of placing it rightly in a government resting entirely on the basis of periodical elections will as readily be perceived, when it is considered that the most conspicuous characters in it will, from that circumstance, be too often the leaders, or the tools of the most cunning or the most numerous faction; and on this account can hardly be expected to possess the requisite neutrality towards those, whose conduct may be the subject of scrutiny.” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 65” (spelling and emphasis in original)
“Make it a fixed point of policy in the national administration to go as far as may be practicable in making the luxury of the rich tributary to the public treasury, in order to diminish the necessity of those impositions, which might create dissatisfaction in the poorer and most numerous classes of the society. Happy it is when the interest which the government has in the preservation of its own power, coincides with a proper distribution of the public burthens, and tends to guard the least wealthy part of the community from oppression!” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 36”
“To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude, that the fiery and destructive passions of war, reign in the human breast, with much more powerful sway, than the mild and beneficent sentiments of peace; and, that to model our political systems upon speculations of lasting tranquility, is to calculate on the weaker springs of human character.” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 34”
“How is it possible that a government half supplied and always necessitous, can fulfil the purposes of its institution—can provide for the security of—advance the prosperity—or support the reputation of the commonwealth? How can it ever possess either energy or stability, dignity or credit, confidence at home or respectability abroad? How can its administration be anything else than a succession of expedients temporising, impotent, disgraceful? How will it be able to avoid a frequent sacrifice of its engagements to immediate necessity? How can it undertake or execute any liberal or enlarged plans of public good?” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 30”
“Money is with propriety considered as the vital principle of the body politic; as that which sustains its life and motion, and enables it to perform its most essential functions. A complete power therefore to procure a regular and adequate supply of it, as far as the resources of the community will permit, may be regarded as an indispensable ingredient in every constitution. From a deficiency in this particular, one of two evils must ensue; either the people must be subjected to continual plunder as a substitute for a more eligible mode of supplying the public wants, or the government must sink into a fatal atrophy, and in a short course of time perish.” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 30”
“Nothing is more likely to endanger the liberty of the press, than the abuse of that liberty, by employing it in personal accusations, detractions, and calumny.” – Benjamin Franklin, “On the Abuse of the Press”
“Greek democracies could never pardon the introduction of new gods. Their objection to this was not, however, that the gods in question were false gods. If they had been so, it would not have mattered so much. What they could not tolerate was that any one should establish a private means of communication between himself and the unseen powers. This introduced, as it were, an unknown and incalculable element into the arrangements of the State, which might very likely be hostile to the democracy, and was in any case a standing menace to the mass of the citizens, who had no means of propitiating the intruding divinity. And it was nearly as bad to worship the ordinary gods of the State in a private way; for it was manifestly unfair that any section of the community should have access to the supreme dispensers of good and ill at times and seasons when the ordinary man was excluded. The religious creed of the Greek citizen may, in short, be summed up in the single tenet promulgated by the Delphic oracle that all must worship ‘according to the use of the city,’ and none must be suffered to gain the private ear of the gods for the furtherance of his own end.” – John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy
“Ancient religions cared nothing for a man’s belief, if only it did not set him in open opposition to the public worship of the State, and, so long as the proper ceremonial was correctly performed, any explanation of it that occurred to the spectator might be given. He might believe or disbelieve that the Mysteries taught the doctrine of immortality; the essential thing was that he should duly sacrifice his pig.” – John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy
“The rights of neutrality will only be respected, when they are defended by an adequate power. A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 11”
“Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war—the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty, to resort for repose and security, to institutions, which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe they, at length, become willing to run the risk of being less free.” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 8”
“Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses and evils incident to society in every shape? Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct, that we, as well as other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 6”
“An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized, as the off-spring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty. An overscrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretence and artifice; the bait for popularity at the expence of public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of violent love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is too apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten, that the vigour of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people, than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us, that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism, than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics the greatest number have begun their carreer, by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing Demagogues and ending Tyrants.” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 1” (spelling variants in original)
“We are not always sure, that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives, not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as upon those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more illjudged than that intolerant spirit, which has, at all times, characterised political parties.” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 1”
“The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body. This sense is submitted indeed in some degree to the guidance of reason, but it is a small stock which is required for this: even a less one than what we call common sense. State a moral case to a ploughman & a professor. The former will decide it as well, & often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Peter Carr”, August 10, 1787
“I am born to lose every thing I love.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Maria Cosway”, July 1, 1787
“A mind always employed is always happy. This is the true secret, the grand recipe for felicity. The idle are the only wretched. In a world which furnishes so many emploiments which are useful, and so many which are amusing, it is our own fault if we ever know what ennui is, or if we are ever driven to the miserable resource of gaming, which corrupts our dispositions, and teaches us a habit of hostility against all mankind.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Martha Jefferson”, May 21, 1787
“Articles of Agreement made this twelveth day of April Anno Domini one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven, by and between George Washington Esqr. of the Parish of Truro, in the County of Fairfax, State of Virginia, on the one part, and Philip Bater, Gardner, on the other Witness, that the said Philip Bater, for and in consideration of the covenants herein, hereafter, mentioned, doth promise and agree to serve the sd. George Washington, for the term of one year, as a Gardner, and that he will, during said time, conduct himself soberly, diligently and honestly, that he will faithfully and industriously perform all, and every part of his duty as a Gardner, to the best of his knowledge and abilities, and that he will not, at any time, suffer himself to be disguised with liquor, except on the times hereafter mentioned. In Consideration of these things being well and truly performed on the part of the sd. Philip Bater, the said George Washington doth agree to allow him (the sd. Philip) the same kind and quantity of provisions as he has heretofore had; and likewise, annually, a decent suit of clothes befitting a man in his station; to consist of a Coat, Vest and breeches; a working Jacket and breeches, of homespun, besides; two white Shirts; three Check Do; two pair of yarn Stockings; two pair of Thread Do; two linnen Pocket handkerchiefs; two pair linnen overalls; as many pair of Shoes as are actually necessary for him; four Dollars at Christmas, with which he may be drunk 4 days and 4 nights; two Dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two Dollars also at Whitsontide, to be drunk two days; A Dram in the morning, and a drink of Grog at Dinner or at Noon. For the true and faithful performance of all and each of these things the parties have hereunto set their hands this twenty third day of April Anno Domini 1787.” – “Contract with Philip Bater” (from George Washington: Writings, ed. John Rhodehamel)
“There are two Passions which have a powerful Influence in the Affairs of Men. These are Ambition and Avarice; the Love of Power and the Love of Money. Separately, each of these has great Force in prompting Men to Action; but when united in View of the same Object, they have in many Minds the most violent Effects. Place before the Eyes of such Men a post of Honour, that shall be at the same time a Place of Profit, and they will move Heaven and Earth to obtain it.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Speech in the Convention on the Subject of Salaries”, June 2, 1787 (emphases in original)
“The fondness for the jingle leaves us with that for the rattles and baubles of childhood, and if we continue to read rhymed verse at a later period of life it is such only where the poet has had force enough to bring great beauties of thought and diction into this form. When young any composition pleases which unites a little sense, some imagination, and some rhythm, in doses however small. But as we advance in life these things fall off one by one.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Thoughts on English Prosody”
“What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! who can endure toil, famine, stripe, imprisonment & death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment be deaf to all those motives whose power supported him thro’ his trial, and inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Answers and Observations for Démeunier’s Article on the United States in the Encyclopédie Methodique, 1786″
“What, gracious God, is man! that there should be such inconsistency & perfidiousness in his conduct?” – George Washington, “Letter to David Humphreys”, December 26, 1786
“Nothing is so mistaken as the supposition, that a person is to extricate himself from a difficulty, by intrigue, by chicanery, by dissimulation, by trimming, by an untruth, by an injustice. This increases the difficulties ten fold; and those who pursue these methods, get themselves so involved at length, that they can turn no way but their infamy becomes more exposed. It is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Peter Carr”, August 19, 1785
“Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” – Chief Justice Earl Warren, “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (No. 1), May 17, 1954”
“It is to be regretted, I confess, that Democratical States must always feel before they can see: it is this that makes their Governments slow—but the people will be right at last.” – George Washington, “Letter to Marquis de Lafayette”, July 25, 1785 (emphases in original)
“While not only every personal artifice is employed by a few heated and inconsiderate spirits, to practise upon the passions of the people, but the public papers are made the channel of the most inflammatory and pernicious doctrines, tending to the subversion of all private security and genuine liberty; it would be culpable in those who understand and value the true interests of the community to be silent spectators. It is, however, a common observation, that men, bent upon mischief, are more active in the pursuit of their object, than those who aim at doing good.” – Alexander Hamilton, “A Letter from Phocion to the Considerate Citizens of New-York on the Politics of the Day”
“In the various Enumerations of the moral Virtues I had met with in my Reading, I found the Catalogue more or less numerous, as different Writers included more or fewer Ideas under the same Name. Temperance, for Example, was by some confin’d to Eating & Drinking, while by others it was extended to mean the moderating every other Pleasure, Appetite, Inclination, or Passion, bodily or mental, even to our Avarice & Ambition. I propos’d to myself, for the sake of Clearness, to use rather more Names with fewer Ideas; and I included under Thirteen Names of Virtues all that at that time occurr’d to me as necessary or desirable, and annex’d to each a short Precept, which fully express’d the Extent I gave to its Meaning.—
These Names of Virtues with their Precepts were
Eat not to Dulness
Drink not to Elevation.
Speak not but what may benefit others or your self. Avoid trifling Conversation.
Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.
Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
Make no Expence but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.
Lose no Time.—Be always employ’d in something useful.—Cut off all unecessary Actions.—
Use no hurtful Deceit.
Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak; speak accordingly.
Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.
Avoid Extreams. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Cloaths, or Habitation.—
Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dulness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.—
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.—
– Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography
“Let us preserve our reputation by performing our engagements; our credit by fulfilling our contracts; and friends by gratitude and kindness; for we know not how soon we may again have occasion for all of them.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to Samuel Mather”, May 12, 1784