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Category: The American Constitution

“WANTED POSTER – Jesse Woodson James: five feet eleven inches tall, brown hair, regulation killer-blue eyes. In photographs appears to be considering shooting the photographer. Does not test out well. Approaches casual strangers in an intimate way and interferes massively in their private lives. Is trapped in the dead hole and neither moves nor changes. Steals horses. Inhabits a discolored landscape through which only one, treacherous path is known to pass. Has the appearance of many ballistics with a flat trajectory. This man is occupied by an army of scars, tip of middle finger left hand missing, and one large scar on chest which oft has spoken with bloody lips. Is always breaking out afresh. Cultivates a desperado aura and can most often be seen in the penny dreadfuls, spotted regularly in novels, poems, ballads, and folktales. Men claiming to be James can be differentiated from him in that they pose willingly in front of cameras, they make political speeches. These people are not the genuine article and are confused. Jess James was never confused about anything in his life, which will last exactly thirty-seven years, five months, three days, fourteen hours, and ten minutes.” – Paulette Jiles, “The James Poems”

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“When you get elected President I think the first thing they do is take you in a room and say you know you’re not gonna do shit. Your hands are tied and Congress have the whole thing locked down and we all get screwed.” – Willie Nelson (interviewed by Martin Chilton in Telegraph Music, 2012)

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“Judges must keep in mind that poverty is not a crime; it is a condition, and every day presents a struggle for the poor to survive, to cope, to get by until tomorrow. When one is poor, drifting into petty crime can become an option, despite its undeniable risks.” – Justice Michael B. Hyman, The People of the State of Illinois v. Harley Busse (Illinois Appellate Court, First District, December 17, 2016)

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“No well ordered society can leave to the individuals an absolute right to make final decisions, unassailable by the State, as to everything they will or will not do.” – Justice Hugo Lafayette Black and Justice William Orville Douglas, West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

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“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone—any person or any force—dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.” – John Lewis, Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America

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“The judge, even when he is free, is still not wholly free. He is not to innovate at pleasure. He is not a knighterrant, roaming at will in pursuit of his own ideal of beauty or of goodness. He is to draw his inspiration from consecrated principles. He is not to yield to spasmodic sentiment, to vague and unregulated benevolence. He is to exercise a discretion informed by tradition, methodized by analogy, disciplined by system, and subordinated to the primordial necessity of order in the social life. Wide enough in all conscience is the field of discretion that remains.” – Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process

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“The common law is but the accumulated expressions of the various judicial tribunals in their efforts to ascertain what is right and just between individuals in respect to private disputes. The common law, however, is not static. By its nature, it adapts to changing circumstances. The common law is affected by the felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, and intuitions of public policy, and it embodies the story of a nation’s development through many centuries. It is generally agreed that two of the most significant features of the common law are: (1) its capacity for growth and (2) its capacity to reflect the public policy of a given era. The common law does not consist of definite rules which are absolute, fixed, and immutable like the statute law, but it is a flexible body of principles which are designed to meet, and are susceptible of adaption to, among other things, new institutions, public policies, conditions, usages and practices, and changes in mores, trade, commerce, inventions, and increasing knowledge, as the progress of society may require. So, changing conditions may give rise to new rights under the law. The common law is always a work in progress and typically develops incrementally, i.e., gradually evolving as individual disputes are decided and existing common-law rules are considered and sometimes adapted to current needs in light of changing times and circumstances.” – Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr., Michigan Supreme Court, Price v. High Pointe Oil Co., 2013 (edited for clarity; internal cites and quotes omitted)

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“The white South said that it knew ‘niggers,’ and I was what the white South called a ‘nigger.’ Well, the white South had never known me—never known what I thought, what I felt. The white South said that I had a ‘place’ in life. Well. I had never felt any ‘place’; or, rather, my deepest instincts had always made me reject the ‘place’ to which the white South had assigned me. It had never occurred to me that I was in any way an inferior being. And no word that I had ever heard fall from the lips of southern white men had ever made me really doubt the worth of my own humanity.” – Richard Wright, Black Boy

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“Our too-young and too-new America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity. It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it cannot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness.” – Richard Wright, Black Boy

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“Among the topics that southern white men did not like to discuss with Negroes were the following: American white women; the Ku Klux Klan; France, and how Negro soldiers fared while there; Frenchwomen; Jack Johnson; the entire northern part of the United States; the Civil War; Abraham Lincoln; U. S. Grant; General Sherman; Catholics; the Pope; Jews; the Republican party; slavery; social equality; Communism; Socialism; the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution; or any topic calling for positive knowledge or manly self-assertion on the part of the Negro.” – Richard Wright, Black Boy

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“As long as there’s suffering, you can only be so happy. How can a person be happy if he has misfortune? Does money make a person happy? Some wealthy billionaire who can buy 30 cars and maybe buy a sports team, is that guy happy? What then would make him happier? Does it make him happy giving his money away to foreign countries? Is there more contentment in that than giving it here to the inner cities and creating jobs? Nowhere does it say that one of the government’s responsibilities is to create jobs. That is a false premise. But if you like lies, go ahead and believe it. The government’s not going to create jobs. It doesn’t have to. People have to create jobs, and these big billionaires are the ones who can do it. We don’t see that happening. We see crime and inner cities exploding, with people who have nothing to do but meander around, turning to drink and drugs, into killers and jailbirds. They could all have work created for them by all these hotshot billionaires. For sure, that would create a lot of happiness. Now, I’m not saying they have to — I’m not talking about communism — but what do they do with their money? Do they use it in virtuous ways? If you have no idea what virtue is all about, look it up in a Greek dictionary. There’s nothing namby-pamby about it.” – Bob Dylan (interviewed by Robert Love in AARP The Magazine)

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“In nations where the dogma of popular sovereignty reigns, each individual constitutes an equal share of the sovereign and participates equally in the government of the state. Thus each individual is supposed to be as enlightened, as virtuous, and as strong as every other individual. Why, then does the individual obey society, and what are the natural limits of his obedience? He obeys society, not because he is inferior to those who rule it, or less capable of governing himself than anyone else, but because union with his fellow men seems useful to him, and because he knows that such union cannot exist without a regulatory power. In everything to do with the duties of citizens to one another, he has therefore become subject. In everything that regards himself alone, he remains master. He is free and owes an account of his actions only to God. Whence this maxim: the individual is the best as well as the only judge of his own interest, and society has the right to direct his actions only when it feels injured by his activities or when it requires his cooperation.” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (trans. Arthur Goldhammer)

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“In New England provision was made from the first for the care of the poor. Strenuous efforts were made to maintain the roads, and officials were appointed to monitor their condition. Town governments kept open records of deliberations at public meetings as well as of deaths, marriages, and births of their citizens. Clerks were designated to maintain these records. Officials were assigned to administer intestate property, others to establish the boundaries of inherited land, and still others whose principal function was to preserve the public tranquility. Legislation concerned itself with a thousand details in order to anticipate and satisfy a host of social needs.” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (trans. Arthur Goldhammer)

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“This letter will, to you, be as one from the dead. The writer will be in the grave before you can weigh its counsels. Your affectionate and excellent father has requested that I would address to you something which might possibly have a favorable influence on the course of life you have to run, and I too, as a namesake, feel an interest in that course. Few words will be necessary, with good disposition on your part. Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life into which you have entered, be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss. And if to the dead it is permitted to care for the things of this world, every action of your life will be under my regard. Farewell.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith,” February 21, 1825

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“Can one generation bind another, and all others, in succession forever? I think not. The Creator has made the earth for the living, not the dead. Rights and powers can only belong to persons, not to things, not to mere matter, unendowed with will. The dead are not even things. The particles of matter which composed their bodies, make part now of the bodies of other animals, vegetables, or minerals, of a thousand forms. To what then are attached the rights and powers they held while in the form of men? A generation may bind itself as long as its majority continues in life; when that has disappeared, another majority is in place, holds all the rights and powers their predecessors once held, and may change their laws and institutions to suit themselves. Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.” Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Major John Cartwright,” June 5, 1824

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“Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding, and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties, which may make anything mean everything or nothing.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Justice William Johnson,” June 12, 1823

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“A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels, and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so bedecked comes amiss. The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real business of life.” Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Nathaniel Burwell,” March 14, 1818

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“I knew General Washington intimately and thoroughly; and were I called on to delineate his character, it should be in terms like these. His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion. Hence the common remark of his officers, of the advantage he derived from councils of war, where hearing all suggestions, he selected whatever was best; and certainly no General ever planned his battles more judiciously. But if deranged during the course of the action, if any member of his plan was dislocated by sudden circumstances, he was slow in re-adjustment. The consequence was, that he often failed in the field, and rarely against an enemy in station, as at Boston and York. He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man. His temper was naturally high toned; but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendency over it. If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath. In his expenses he was honorable, but exact; liberal in contributions to whatever promised utility; but frowning and unyielding on all visionary projects and all unworthy calls on his charity. His heart was not warm in its affections; but he exactly calculated every man’s value, and gave him a solid esteem proportioned to it. His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble; the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback. Although in the circle of his friends, where he might be unreserved with safety, he took a free share in conversation, his colloquial talents were not above mediocrity, possessing neither copiousness of ideas, nor fluency of words. In public, when called on for a sudden opinion, he was unready, short and embarrassed. Yet he wrote readily, rather diffusely, in an easy and correct style. This he had acquired by conversation with the world, for his education was merely reading, writing and common arithmetic, to which he added surveying at a later day. His time was employed in action chiefly, reading little, and that only in agriculture and English history. His correspondence became necessarily extensive, and, with journalizing his agricultural proceedings, occupied most of his leisure hours within doors. On the whole, his character was, in its mass, perfect, in nothing bad, in few points indifferent; and it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance. For his was the singular destiny and merit, of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Dr. Walter Jones,” January 2, 1814

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“The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to John Norvell,” June 14, 1807

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“It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own. It behoves him, too, in his own case, to give no example of concession, betraying the common right of independent opinion, by answering questions of faith, which the laws have left between God & himself.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush,” April 21, 1803

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“I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man. True, they nourish some of the legant arts, but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere, and the less perfection in the others, with more health, virtue & freedom, would be my choice.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush,” September 23, 1800

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“The whole body of the nation is the sovereign legislative, judiciary and executive power for itself. The inconvenience of meeting to exercise these powers in person, and their inaptitude to exercise them, induce them to appoint special organs to declare their legislative will, to judge & to execute it. It is the will of the nation which makes the law obligatory; it is their will which creates or annihilates the organ which is to declare & announce it.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Edmund Randolph,” August 18, 1799

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“I have seen enough of political honors to know they are but splendid torments: and however one might be disposed to render services on which any of their fellow citizens should set a value; yet when as many would deprecate them as a public calamity, one may well entertain a modest doubt of their real importance, and feel the impulse of duty to be very weak. The real difficulty is that being once delivered into the hands of others, whose feelings are friendly to the individual and warm to the public cause, how to withdraw from them without leaving a dissatisfaction in their mind, and an impression of pusillanimity with the public.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Martha Jefferson Randolph,” June 8, 1797

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